Heather Willard / NewsBreak Denver
(Denver, Colo.) Denver’s new public safety director, Armando Saldate, wants to reduce crime by addressing its root causes and focusing on youth engagement, public health and data-driven methodology.
Saldate aims to find better ways to reduce crime across the Denver metro area instead of using a one-style-fits-all solution for public safety issues. That might mean using the skills and programs found in different government agencies, such as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Adding public health to public safety
“Right now, where I think we can do our best efforts is incorporating public health into how we look at public safety,” Saldate said. “The reason I say that is very clear: when I go to a homeless encampment, when I see a lot of the problems in Denver, like at Union Station, what I see are activities rooted in public health.”
He described how substance addiction, such as heroin, fentanyl or methamphetamine, is a growing issue across Denver and the nation — the Center for Disease Control reported Colorado saw a 25% rise in drug overdose deaths for the year ending October 2021.
In that time, approximately 1,864 Coloradoans died of an overdose — and at least nine more deaths likely will be added to that total, according to CDC reports.
“We cannot arrest our way out of these problems,” Saldate said. “In fact, it created disparities in criminal justice application in our communities of color.”
Mental illness complicates providing help
Saldate described how mental illness could lead to barriers in service delivery, such as homeless aid or other resources, especially when combined with issues such as substance misuse.
“Untreated mental illness can really impact barriers for folks to get assistance,” he said. Adding substance abuse, which is typical, makes it even more challenging to help people.
Physical health is also an issue for transient communities, especially during Denver’s cold, wet winter months. Helping the homeless becomes more complicated if they are involved in illegal activity. In providing public health aid, Saldate says, the agencies are also helping provide avenues for individuals to stay away from possible criminal activity.
Focus on the next generation
Saldate says one of his biggest goals is to focus more on children, teens and young adults and reduce opportunities for idleness or possible criminal activity.
“We have to engage our youth,” he said.
Saldate envisions getting buy-in from the whole community, not just police officers and other public safety departments, to help engage children, teens and young adults. children. In particular, he wants to reduce access to guns.
“Hopefully, we can have a safer summer,” he said, noting the uptick of homicides and gun violence throughout 2021 and continuing into 2022 in Denver.
Although Denver Police confiscated a record number of guns in 2021, access remains too easy for teens.
“It’s not enough,” he said. “This is where we need community engagement.”
Working with a time limit
Saldate was confirmed as Denver’s Public Safety Executive Director by Denver City Council to serve for the duration of Mayor Michael Hancock’s term, ending in July 2023.
Saldate worked for 21 years in law enforcement in Phoenix, Arizona. In 2014, he joined the Denver Sheriff’s Office as an outside investigator, helping reform the agency as it faced criticism regarding its policies and procedures and violent acts of its officers caught on camera.