DENVER -- After some recent assaults by aggressive panhandlers on the 16th Street Mall, Denver police and downtown business leaders were out in force on Saturday to make sure the first “Meet on the Street” of 2016 was a safe event for families.
Video of an assault was uncovered last week. It showed an office worker and a good Samaritan getting attacked by several panhandlers, who police call “urban travelers."
Police Chief Robert White and the Downtown Denver Partnership promised increased security on the mall to help combat the recent attacks, and on Saturday there was a large presence from police officers and private security on the mall.
The event was also filled with several family-friendly activities that helped attract the general public and keep trouble away.
"We just stumbled on it and it's actually been quite fun,” said Amanda Thomas, who said she doesn’t usually come down to the mall. "It's nice to see downtown is doing more for families because this has not always been so family friendly."
Mayor Michael Hancock and White will hold a news conference on Monday with the Downtown Denver Partnership to unveil their security plan for the mall.
"I believe the solution is really how to handle the crisis of the panhandlers themselves," said Randy Hesse, a Denver resident. "People are not going to come here if they don't feel that they're safe. I kind of avoid the 16th Street Mall when there's not activities like this going on."
The “Meet on the Street” was full of activities and also full of officers. Police did maintain a presence near a small group of panhandlers to ensure there were no issues.
"They're always going to be here, so it's just a fact of life,” Thomas said. “It's just a fact of life that we have to live with but it's just the way we want to approach it."
"I feel completely fine,” said Amanda Dougherty, who said it was her first time on the mall. “I feel totally comfortable. I actually haven't noticed that there was anything wrong."
The Downtown Denver Partnership knows the goal now is to make that feeling last and convince others that it’s a safe place to visit.
"It is absolutely our goal and the city's goal that everyone feel this good every day of the year,” Olson said.