It was June 30 and Robert Davis was puzzled. The young freelance reporter for The Denver VOICE was covering a virtual event marking the opening of a new homeless shelter, and Denver’s Mayor Michael Hancock had just mentioned a new civilian enforcement team.
“My ears kind of perked up,” he says. Davis and his colleagues at the VOICE, which specializes in covering the city’s unhoused community, had never heard of a civilian enforcement team and wanted to learn what it might have to do with homelessness.
But when he called the mayor’s office, he was referred to another city department. There he was told it was just a concept in early discussions and no one was willing to talk about it.
Davis found that implausible. “This sounded way too consequential for the mayor to be joking about,” he says. But he didn’t know how to find out what was really going on behind the city’s stonewalling. He also doubted the mayor’s denials that Denver was relocating homeless encampments in anticipation of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game coming to the city in mid-July.
So he called COLab for help.
In just its first year of existence, COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative, has become a vital resource for communities and the journalists who serve them. American news organizations are struggling. Entities that are not authentic news outlets are making lots of money pushing false narratives and incendiary viewpoints, masked as news. We’ve all seen the results.
COLab is working to combat that slippery slope. We do that by helping local news outlets and communities build trust and relationships, helping news outlets build better business models, and helping hard-working journalists like Davis go further faster.
That’s where COLab’s coaching team comes in.
“I was looking for strategic help,” Davis says. “I needed someone to focus me in the right direction…where to go to find the information.”
Davis spent a good deal of time on the phone with COLab’s John Ferrugia, talking through the possibilities and Ferrugia ticking off sources Davis should approach who might have information and data, including advocacy groups and the city departments that might launch a program cracking down on homeless encampments and where emails and other records about such a program might be kept.
“It gave me someone to guide me through the process,” Davis said.
Armed with the insight of a veteran COLab investigative reporter, Davis uncovered a plan, never publicized, headed by the Denver Department of Public Safety to hire unarmed civilians to enforce city ordinances and issue tickets for infractions, mostly centered on homelessness.
Despite the secrecy surrounding the initiative and city officials’ denials, Davis found through an open records request that the city’s public safety director had signed off on the new plan on June 11th.
Was it just coincidental that all this was happening around the All-Star events when the city wanted to put its best foot forward to a national audience?
After talking it through with Ferrugia, Davis obtained data on when and where sweeps of homeless camps took place, and found that despite the mayor’s denials that they were related to the All-Star Game, nearly 90 percent of them happened on roads and pathways leading to Coors Field.
It was Davis’ collaboration with COLab that helped him successfully bring these stories to fruition.
“I totally hit a brick wall and I didn’t know how to get around it,” he says. “COLab kind of helped me find a tunnel underneath!”
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This post was sent as a letter to our email subscribers on Tuesday, August 4, 2021. Join our email list to learn more about COLab and the work we are doing.