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Denver Police Chief Wants More Officers On 16th Street Mall

By Lauren DiSpirito

DENVER (CBS4)- Denver's police chief says he wants to put more officers on the 16th Street Mall, following recent incidents of violence recorded by tourists and bystanders.

Addressing concerns raised regarding violent behavior on the city's pedestrian corridor, Chief Robert White said Thursday that the mall needs more resources. 16TH STREET MALL VIOLENCE (4)

White says "travelers," people coming to Denver from elsewhere who may or may not be homeless, in his description, have taken panhandling to levels that violate city law.

"Their activity is based on starting with the panhandling, which is legal, but it evolves into something that is potentially illegal and that's the part that we're not going to tolerate," White said.

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On Monday, White says he'll announce changes to how his department covers the 16th Street Mall.

"In light of the recent incidents that have occurred, I think we're now at the point where we need to re-evaluate the resources we have there with serious consideration of adding more resources," White said, adding, "I suspect that that's going to happen very soon."

White said he does attribute the problems, including fights that have hospitalized people and led to arrests, solely to Denver's homeless population. He reiterated that panhandling is legal in Denver, and there are not loitering laws that would prohibit someone from spending time on the mall.

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"How you look and how you smell, that's not a crime," White said.

Bobby Lewis, who lives one block from the mall, says he avoids the area at night.

"They get out here and harass the tourists, I don't agree with that one bit," he says of groups he's seen congregate on the mall, and become more aggressive.

"I've seen it every day," Lewis said. "Sometimes they'll crowd up the sidewalk so you can't get through."

CBS4's Lauren DiSpirito interviews Downtown Denver Partnership Pres. & CEO Tami Door (credit: CBS)

Blocking the sidewalk is something White says is illegal, and officers will enforce. Members of the Downtown Denver Partnership will join him Monday to announce their own hiring of a security manager for mall projects. The group also plans to hire a private security firm and is in the process of ordering 182 new lights for the mile-long stretch. The $1.9 million-dollar project is expected to be complete this fall.

(credit: CBS)

"Right now, this is what's happening and it needs our attention and frankly, it's getting it," Downtown Denver Partnership President and CEO Tami Door said. "It's one step in a big process but its needed and we all see that. The mall is a very unique urban space, we have days where it's vibrant and active and filled with the most exciting activities and people, and then, all of the sudden on a block or a certain area you have a completely different experience. We need to create an environment that is consistent no matter where you are on this mile-long stretch, and no matter what time you're there."

Lauren DiSpirito is CBS4's Northern Newsroom reporter. Follow her on Twitter @CBS4Lauren. Share your story ideas with her here.

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