The DPD cruiser blocked the intersection of Speer Avenue and Eighth Avenue.  (Kevin J. Beatty / Denver Wright)

Denver police mismanage taxpayer funds for mental health support

According to the city audit report, DPD and the Department of Public Safety turned in a nonprofit late and misused some money, and the rest was not spent in a timely manner. The Department of Public Safety said the report did not take into account the challenges posed by the pandemic and understaffing.

The Denver Police Department (DPD) and the Department of Public Safety mismanaged taxpayer funds they received for programs that pair mental health responders with police, according to a report released Thursday by the Denver Audit Office.

The report found the police department used the grant in prohibited ways, such as for travel expenses, indirect costs such as rent and utilities, and fees for the wrong year of the grant. The city also failed to pay co-response providers on time.

DPD also neglected to use more than $380,000 in grants from the Caring Denver Foundation, intended for co-responder programs. Interest accrued on the unused money amounted to $438,000. The funds have now been returned, said Kindle Morell, director of communications for Cares Denver.

The Department of Public Safety issued a letter in response to the audit. They claim the report did not take into account the challenges of the past few years, particularly the recent understaffing.

“The overall tone and tone of the audit lacked objectivity and lacked consideration of several fundamental factors that have significantly impacted operations, including the global pandemic, civil unrest and economic obstacles, unlike anything the city has faced in recent memory,” the public said. Written by the executive of the Ministry of Security directed by Armando Saldat, III.

The audit was conducted as part of a set of audits to monitor grant compliance and did not measure program effectiveness. Morell said it was going well.

“I’ve only heard good news about the co-responder program,” she said.

Sending out mental health responders alongside the police is part of a growing approach to emergency calls that recognises that many people in crisis may benefit more from mental health support than from the police.

Caring for Denver is funded by a 0.25% sales tax increase, which was passed by nearly 70% of Denver voters in 2018 through a ballot measure targeting mental health and substance abuse services.

A press release from the Audit Office said funding managers believed the grants could be rolled over and that they could use unused funds in the future. But in fact, it’s not.

“Unfortunately, grants cannot be viewed as regular city budgets that roll over year-over-year,” Denver Auditor Timothy O’Brien said in a release. “Use it or lose it — in this case, the people of Denver lost the opportunity to receive more services from this innovative new co-responder program during that funding year.”

Morell clarified that the money was not lost forever. “It’s taxpayer money, it’s repurposed for grants and it’s going back to the community, and the city can always reapply,” she said, adding that the co-responders program is Caring for Denver Part of the founding regulations, so the program will continue to receive funding in the future.

Also, for late payments — sometimes as long as seven and a half months — the city could owe WellPower, a nonprofit that provides mental health services, an additional $32,000 in fines, but those fees were waived.

“WellPower told us that they initially disagreed with the waiver of these penalties, and then did so after a request from a finance manager in the Department of Public Safety,” Taylor Overschmidt, communications director for the Denver Audit Office, said in a release. “The WellPower manager said late payment of invoices would create ‘operational difficulties’ and cash flow issues.”

In a press release, O’Brien said WellPower wasn’t the first contractor to experience delayed payments by the city, and despite multiple follow-ups, the nonprofit was not paid.

Meanwhile, the audit also said DPD had not taken steps to ensure the accuracy of WellPower’s data about the program’s efficacy, and questioned the department’s decision to award contracts only through WellPower and not through a competitive bidding process.

The Audit Office published a list Suggest. The Department of Public Safety agreed to all but one of them and said some of them were already in effect.

Some of the recommendations include better tracking and reimbursement of overhead and travel costs, appointing staff for grant oversight, and developing procedures for entering and monitoring program data.

The Department of Safety said it had complied with some recommendations, such as reimbursement for Caring for Denver. The sticking point was paying WellPower an interest-bearing penalty, which the department said had been fully waived.

WellPower did not respond to Denverite’s request for comment before publication.

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