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Crime and Courts

Denver gives state troopers ability to enforce city laws around Capitol, governor’s mansion at Polis’ request

The move gives the Colorado State Patrol more leeway to stop graffiti and address encampments on state-owned land in Denver. It comes as a growing number of people camp out near state-owned buildings.

Workers began removing anti-police brutality graffiti from the Colorado State Capitol buillding behind a newly erected fence on Monday, July 20, 2020. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)
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Denver public safety officials on Thursday, acting on the request of Gov. Jared Polis, gave Colorado State Patrol troopers the ability to enforce city ordinances on state-owned land, namely the areas around the Capitol building and governor’s mansion, The Colorado Sun has learned. 

The move comes as encampments have grown in Lincoln Park, across from the Capitol, and on East Eighth Avenue, outside the governor’s mansion. 

Polis is also facing increasing pressure to clean up the areas, especially the Capitol, that were damaged and vandalized during protests in the weeks following George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis. State taxpayers are on the hook for more than $1 million in damage to the Capitol including graffiti and broken windows and doors.

Denver Public Safety Director Murphy Robinson on Thursday signed an order allowing state troopers to enforce city ordinances. Troopers must coordinate with Denver authorities and undergo training before they can enforce city ordinances.

The order expires on Oct. 22. 

MORE: Read the order.

“We really need that extra ability to be able to prevent damage,” Polis said at a news conference on Thursday. “It’s not just a building. It’s a big part of our republic. It’s who we are. It’s our state Capitol. It’s symbolic. It’s important. And, frankly, when it is desecrated we all are descreated and democracy is desecrated.”

As for the encampments, Polis said he would welcome and encourage law enforcement to “come remove” anyone who is squatting on state property. 

“I’ve asked the mayor and the city council, and I really want the city council to act and the mayor,” Polis said. “We’ve been asking them for weeks.”

Denver has a ban on outdoor camping that voters last year declined to overturn. 

“It doesn’t seem to me like that’s being enforced right now,” Polis said at the news conference. “I do see people camping.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at the governor’s mansion in downtown Denver on Thursday, June 11, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Robinson, in an interview with The Sun on Thursday, said a draft of the order has been in the works for a week or two. The order comes after extensive conversations between state law enforcement and city authorities.  

The order allows state troopers to enforce parts of Denver’s municipal code dealing with trespass, disturbing the peace, assault, public fighting, public urination and defecation, theft, destruction of property, obstruction of streets or other public passageways, park curfews, and damaging trees on public property.

Troopers are limited to enforcing Denver’s municipal code to the areas surrounding the Capitol and governor’s mansion.

“(The Colorado State Patrol) has asked me to consider this for some time now,” Robinson said. “This is just an additional tool for Colorado State Patrol to utilize to protect the facilities they are charged with protecting, that happen to reside within the city and county of Denver.” 

Members of the Colorado State Patrol work to remove one protestor from the balcony of the house chambers just before Gov. Jared Polis entered the room to deliver his State of the State address on January 9, 2020 in Denver. The State Patrol is in charge of protecting the Capitol and the governor’s mansion, as well as keeping Polis safe. (Photo By Kathryn Scott)

State troopers have always been able to make arrests in Denver, but they needed the Denver Police Department to finalize and document the arrests, Robinson said. 

“This gives the state patrol, as a state entity, the ability to write the tickets themselves for the Denver municipal code and execute those tickets on their own behalf through my authority,” Robinson said.

As for the encampments, Denver has not stepped in to remove people who have set up tents in Lincoln Park and outside of the governor’s mansion. 

People clean up their encampments along Lincoln Park, which is being closed on Wednesday, Jan 15, 2020, because of public health concerns. Encampments returned when the pandemic began. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

“The last thing I want to allow to happen is for a property crime to turn into a persons crime because we go in and we cause folks to react in a way that will get them jailed and or get an officer or, franky, the subject we’re dealing with, hurt,” Robinson said. “That’s not what I want.”

Robinson added: “The mayor has invited the governor to educate himself on the homelessness issue because this is not a cut-and-dry situation. It is a matter of local concern and it is not something that you can just wave a magic wand and this issue goes away.”

Master Trooper Gary Cutler, a spokesman for the State Patrol, said he didn’t know how the order would affect how troopers handle encampments near the Capitol and governor’s mansion. But he said the order was not in response only to the recent protests and the growing encampments. 

“We’ve been working on this for quite a few years,” Cutler said.

The issue of how to manage Denver’s growing encampments of people experiencing homelessness has long been highly contentious. Critics say Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration has been too heavy handed while others say not enough has been done to prevent people from sleeping on the city’s streets for long periods of time. 

A resident of the tent camp at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver checks a phone as the city prepared to sweep the area on May 20, 2020. The camp had grown to dozens of tents spanning the entire city block and as many as 80 people. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

Growing campsites outside of the Capitol, the governor’s mansion and in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood have fanned the flames in recent weeks, stoking public safety and sanitation fears. 

A Colorado Sun reporter this week saw open drug use and someone defecating in Lincoln Park. On Thursday afternoon there was a triple shooting near the encampment by the Capitol. 

Polis said he doesn’t want to conflate the vandalism at the Capitol with people who are camping near or on state property. They are separate issues, he said. 

“It’s a nuanced issue,” Polis said of encampments and people experiencing homelessness. “That is different than a crime. If you’re going to stop a squatter, you just say ‘please move’ and they move. Somebody who commits a crime and causes the state damage, that is a chargeable offense. A tent in a camp is something that’s up to a city — they want it, they don’t want it — but destroying property is against the law everywhere in Colorado.” 

Robinson said Denver officials are going to act soon on the encampments. The city is working to set up sanctioned encampments for people experiencing homelessness, including at the parking lot for the Denver Coliseum. 

“The time is quickly coming where we are going to ask these folks to move on,” Robinson said. “We are going to make sure we offer them services. We are working diligently to find a solution that will represent the values of our city.” 

Robinson said no troopers have completed the required training to enforce Denver’s ordinances. He said the training will be provided by the city attorney’s office and the police department, but he didn’t know how long it would take for each trooper to complete.

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