Wanted: Community Cop Shops Searching for Volunteers

~ by Elaine Lee  ~

It’s near closing time at a Stapleton storefront on a muggy Saturday afternoon, July 20, 2013 – the first anniversary of the theater tragedy that exploded across the border in Aurora, mere miles away. This Denver Cop Shop-turned Bicycle Library is tucked amid small stores, cafes and condos. As usual, it’s peaceful inside. Seated at a round table in the roomful of bicycles, Darnell Robinson, 25, a staffer, lingers with a disarming smile and no reticence to describe the first, most remarkable volunteer he’s met here yet.

“He was an elderly man; he had a lot of good stories. I was just learning something new every time he talked. He seemed to know some locations to bike around and some of the most beautiful locationsÉI find talking to the elderly exciting, because they’re very knowledgeable, and I can learn Ôwhat’s what’ with them.”

“I don’t usually talk to a lot of people, but I got to know him,” Robinson recalls in audible appreciation for the unassuming sage’s soft-spoken revelations of life experiences, routes and insights. Interacting with such folks, not in Robinson’s typical realm, helps to strengthen his own conversational and social skills, he says.

Explaining that he finds more discussion opportunities here than anywhere else, the young man met that first helper in June, when the Cop Shop was shifting gears, so to speak, and making space for donated bicycles to further encourage positive community involvement. A low-cost bike checkout system in tandem with Stapleton Area Transportation Management Association has evolved — all convergent at The Hub, 7484 E. 29th Ave. — which also refers non-emergent issues for police attention to 720-913-2000.

Cop Shops are community-based endeavors, made possible by volunteers and donors. The storefront settings are police outposts of sorts, open to all citizens Monday through Saturday during limited hours, and accessible to police officers 24 hrs a day, allowing them to stop by, refresh themselves and complete reports without having to leave the area. By situating these resources in different parts of the city, the Denver Police Department’s officers have more time for patrolling and more efficiency in responding to some types of concerns, according to a brochure.

As Cop Shops explore how to better serve nearby residents and collaborate with other neighborhood entities, some of the shops are discovering how to restyle and retool themselves as hybrids like the Stapleton Bicycle Library. It invites people to check out bikes for as long as 48 hours at a time in exchange for a $20 annual membership fee plus eight hours of volunteer work in the office or at related events. Bikes can be borrowed for up to five hours at a whirl before voluntary tasks are completed. One task, for example, consists of putting up the fence-line at a weekly farmers’ market, where 150-180 shoppers per Sunday have been able to park and leave bikes unlocked under watchful volunteers’ eyes, while the cyclists buy fresh produce.

Denver Cop Shops strive to put officers in convenient commercial areas to help the public with crime prevention and provide ready access to a variety of police services, reducing treks to district stations. In the shop-like environs individuals and local businesses can meet with officers to file police reports such as non-injury auto accidents, thefts, drug activity, graffiti and gang activities. Some Cop Shops also furnish assistance with zoning issues, neighborhood cleanup, traffic or other matters. Cop Shop volunteers fill out an application form, must pass a background check and, if selected, may attend monthly training classes to learn how various divisions of the police department operate.

Each Denver Cop Shop’s mission is “to create and maintain a partnership between the residents and law enforcement officials to help prevent crime, improve safety and solve community problems in the Denver area,” as stated on the DPD website. “The Cop Shop will assist in building confidence between the community and law enforcement.”

While tending to his grandmother and other relatives at home this summer, Robinson heard from an uncle that the Stapleton Cop Shop needed help. It hadn’t drawn in many passers-by or volunteers, so it was spinning off from the law enforcement image to try a new modus operandi. By the time Robinson got there in June, the place was becoming the Bicycle Library, yet still retains a Cop Shop identity too — evidenced by kits for child identification including fingerprinting. Nobody wearing a badge was present during this reporter’s visit. But a few bicycle repair tools were in plain view and official DPD Heads Up cards were handy with pedestrian and bicycling safety tips and rules of the road. Moreover, “Way To Go” buttons and flyers on same premises were promoting a free NEWalkfest from 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, offering half-hour to 2-1/2 hour foot-plans spanning Park Hill, Montclair and Stapleton neighborhoods.

Check out Cop Shops in vicinities of Leetsdale, Bear Valley, Federal Boulevard, Morrison Road or West Colfax at
http://www.denvergov.org/police/PoliceDepartment/PoliceStations/CopShops/tabid/442544/Default.aspx. A volunteer form is available in this issue of The Prime Time for Seniors or via the DPD website.

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