UPDATE: Service providers worry that people who’d been staying in the park will now disperse through the city, in gulches and under bridges, making it harder to reach them.
The city of Denver plans to shut down Civic Center Park by Sept. 15 to address public health and safety issues. Although the park won’t be completely closed to the public for another week, workers could be seen setting out large barricades and blocking off some areas of the park as early as Tuesday.
The city cited a long list of reasons leading up to the closure, including litter, rotting food, dozens of rodent burrows, human and pet waste and improperly discarded needles. The release also noted graffiti and fire damage to park structures that would require professional restoration.
According to a CBS Denver report, the closure could last as long as two months. The city, however, did not provide any additional information about the timeline of the closure. “When work is complete and all public health issues have been mitigated, Civic Center Park and surrounding areas will be reopened,” read a city press release.
Civic Center Park has been a major focus for the Denver Police for months now, and is one of the five crime hot spots the department identified earlier this year.
Last month, police officials said that one of their new approaches had started to calm violent crime around the park.
The press release reiterated these issues: “The park and surrounding areas have become a hotspot for violence, crime, drug sales and substance misuse, jeopardizing the public’s ability to safely enjoy one of Denver’s treasured outdoor spaces,” it read.
Here’s what we know from DPD crime data.
Violent crime is up across the city. In July, Denver saw 337 murders and aggravated assaults, the most recorded in any month since Jan. 2016. We didn’t adjust for population growth, but violence has become an acute problem in Denver and other U.S. cities since COVID arrived last year.
We ran DPD’s crime data for just the area that encompasses Civic Center Park and found two homicides reported there this year. They’re the only two on the books since 2016. Still, aggravated assaults in the park have not risen to the highest levels on record.
To get a better idea of how violent crime numbers at the park compare to a broader area, we looked at murders and assaults within Civic Center Park as a proportion to totals in the four surrounding neighborhoods: Capitol Hill, North Capitol Hill, Central Business District and Civic Center (which is essentially the “Golden Triangle”). Violent crimes at Civic Center Park made up about ten percent of all assaults and murders in the four neighborhoods in July and August.
That’s compared to 20 percent in June of 2020, the moment when the park accounted for the largest share of violence in the area.
Drug crimes are a different story. Those offenses logged in Civic Center Park accounted for a greater proportion of the four-neighborhood total in 2021 than they have for most of the last six years. In June, DPD logged more drug crimes in the park than they ever have before – a tactic to stem violence that Chief Paul Pazen said was being driven by illicit deals.
This is a developing story and will be updated.