The mayor of Denver is backing down from an unauthorized camping ordinance in the Colorado city after videos showing police taking blankets from homeless people went viral. Mayor Michael Hancock made the announcement in a statement Saturday, Dec. 10, noting the push to provide safe environments for the homeless population.
“As a city, we have a responsibility and moral obligation to protect the lives of our residents,” Hancock said. “Urban camping, especially during cold, wet weather, is dangerous and we don’t want to see any lives lost on the streets when there are safe, warm places available for people to sleep at night.
“Every night, we have beds open for people to sleep and everyday we have safe places and resources to help people experiencing homelessness.”
As a result, the mayor ordered police to stop enforcing seizing tents, blankets and other camping equipment from citizens until the end of April.
“Every step we take is intended to connect people with safe and warm places and critical supportive services,” Hancock said. “We never intended to take the belongings that people need to keep warm.”
Ahead of the policy change, videos surfaced showing police taking the tents, blankets and other camping equipment that the city’s homeless use to survive.
Unicorn Riot filmed two homeless men receiving a citation Nov. 28 for violating the urban camping ban.
“You’re being cited for illegal camping, okay?” an officer is heard saying to one of the men. “You have a court date. We’re asking you to leave.”
The next day, Kayvan Khalatbari posted an 8-minute clip that features police removing blankets from around a veteran one by one as he lies on the ground. They confiscated the materials as evidence of violating the policy.
Although the first video shows police removing blankets from two men in daylight, the mayor’s office said police have only removed blankets or tents from three individuals during a protest outside a government building Nov. 28. It also said notices about the ordinance were handed out at 9:40 p.m and officers “worked to gain voluntary compliance over the following six hours with the demonstrators.” During the past two weeks, the office said nine citations were issued to seven people after multiple notifications.
According to The Denver Post, the city’s homeless population is estimated to be more than 3,700. Several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, and civil rights lawyers called for the enforcement to end Friday, Dec. 9. Civil rights attorney David Lane phoned the Denver attorney’s office and gave them an ultimatum: “I told them if they didn’t stand down, we would be in federal court first thing Monday morning,” he said.
Despite the videos of police confiscations and the pleas from the community, a spokesperson for the mayor told the newspaper no specific event sparked the change.