The Denver Parks and Recreation Department has collected more than 3,500 needles in Denver parks and on Cherry Creek trail this year, spurring the adoption of a new directive that allows police to ban drug users from parks for 90 days.
The temporary initiative began August 31 and will remain in effect for six months. Under the authority of Denver Parks and Recreation and the Denver Police Department, anyone engaged in illegal drug activity can be banned for 90 days. The ban is effective only for the park in which the activity took place.
“The officer will respond and will contact that individual, and he or she will triage that call as they normally would, and very likely that individual could receive a parks suspension notice for up to 90 days,” Denver Police spokesman John White told CBS Denver.
Undercover authorities will keep track of who has been banned and report violators. A violation of the ban could lead to a $999 fine and one year in jail.
Heroin use and drug trafficking have devalued the reputation of Cherry Creek trail and other parks, but civil rights activists criticized the move as violating due process. Officers can issue the ban without a court conviction.
“There already are laws against drug-related activity anywhere in the city, including the parks,” Mark Silverstein of the Colorado ACLU told the Denver Post. “The city apparently finds those laws inconvenient because they require the due process (guaranteed in) the Bill of Rights to enforce them.”
The parks department says it has the authority to ban certain activities within the city’s parks.
Denver law enforcement have reported increased drug trafficking and use along Cherry Creek trail. CBS Denver described the bike path as “Ground Zero for heroin in downtown Denver.”
The law enforcement crackdown began in August and was highlighted by a multi-million dollar drug bust. On August 16, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Denver PD announced the arrest of 25 individuals and the seizure of 47 pounds of heroin worth $2.2 million.
“The Denver Police Department and the organizations involved in Operation Muchas Pacas want drug dealers to know that selling drugs in our city, state, and country is not tolerated and will be dealt with in a swift and accountable manner,” Denver Police Chief Robert White said in a press release. “Dismantling this heroin ring is one giant step in reducing the supply of illegal narcotics to our streets.”
Law enforcement efforts also include trying to help addicts find treatment. The Denver Post reported that law enforcement personnel have been patrolling Cherry Creek alongside paramedics and employees from the Mental Health Center of Denver and Denver Human Services. The goal is to connect drug users to treatment resources.
On August 31, International Overdose Awareness Day, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the recipients of multiple grants to prevent and treat substance abuse.
Colorado was awarded two grants: the Medication-Assisted Treatment Prescription Drug Opioid Addiction Grant and the Prescription Drug Overdose: Prevention for States program grant. The combined funding will total almost $2 million.
The former grant provides funds for expanding access to medication-assisted treatment for patients with opioid addiction, and the latter grant funds prevention and treatment efforts in tribal communities.
“This money is so important to Colorado right now,” Lindsey Myers of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment told Colorado Public Radio. “Over the last 10 years we have seen prescription drug opioid deaths really increase by about four-fold in Colorado.”