ACLU Cries Foul Over Denver’s Drug Use Crackdown

A new temporary focus on drug use in Denver parks is meant to address what the city calls a heroin epidemic.

For the next six months, people buying, selling or using drugs can be banned from parks for 90 days. The city says the policy could be made permanent.

Thousands of used needles have been found discarded in parks near downtown. Cyndi Karvaski, spokeswoman with Denver Parks and Rec, said violators can be suspended from the parks, but the city’s first priority is to try to help people get treatment.

"We have co-responders going with police trying to connect people with treatment," Karvaski said. "If a person does not abide by the suspension notice, they are subject to a criminal citation. That could lead to arrest."

Karvaski says Denver’s city charter allows for the city to disallow certain activities in parks.

But the ACLU of Colorado says the city is violating the Constitution.

"This is really an end run around the Bill of Rights," said Mark Silverstein, the ACLU of Colorado's legal director. "It’s punishment first with the possibility of some kind of appeal later. And that’s backwards."

The city installed a needle disposal kiosk on the downtown end of the Cherry Creek Trail last year, but users still leave needles on the ground.