Denver using data to approach public safety in unique way

DENVER -- Every neighborhood in Denver is a unique confluence of character and change, but none are without their own issues. In West Colfax, people like Stephen Cobb are struggling to make ends meet.

“I found myself homeless,” Cobbs said. “The veterans got me into Beacon House. When you don’t have an address, it’s hard to find work.”

Denver Public Safety officials believe they’ve found a new blueprint to address the problems that lead to crime that no other major city in the country is doing.

“We can ultimately connect them to services that will help resolve challenges they may be facing,” said Denver Public Safety Director of Financial Planning and Analysis Shawn Smith.

It’s called the Denver Opportunity Index, which pools data from places like the police department, the Colorado Department of Health and the Census Bureau.

“We’re trying to focus more on how do we resolve or help resolve things that are leading to things like crime,” Smith said.

The platform breaks down the statistics into three pillars: financial security, behavioral health and people left behind.

“When all three of those conditions exist, that’s an area of town that needs attention,” said Director of Public Safety Troy Riggs, who gave a Ted Talk about the platform.

“Data is telling us things that we haven't seen in the past,” Riggs said. “It's shown us the ill effects of this kind of policing, arresting and prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law.”

But while the data helps with the big picture, they’re still looking for the fine details.

“Data doesn’t show us everything,” Riggs said. “It doesn’t demonstrate what people are dealing with day in and day out. That’s why we’ve had over 50 community meetings.”

Riggs hopes to hold more community meetings about improving the platform and public safety across the city. You can schedule a meeting in your community by sending an email to publicsafety@denvergov.org or call 720-913-6020.

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