Denver audit finds mental health money unused

Gabrielle Franklin / KDVR Fox 31

DENVER (KDVR) — An audit found that the Denver Police Department and Department of Public Safety failed to use some dollars meant for mental health help.

According to a new report, the Denver Auditor’s Office found the grant money sat so long that it accumulated about $55,000 in interest.

“When someone like the police department receives dollars, from a foundation like the Caring for Denver Foundation, there are additional requirements to managing those programs,” Denver Auditor Timothy O’Brien said. “That’s what we looked at is: Was the Department of Public Safety, through the police department, administering the program in accordance with the requirements of a particular grant that was given to them?”

O’Brien said they found that the departments could have done a better job.

“There were some staffing shortages, you know, there was the pandemic, the social unrest of 2020. All those contributed to distracting their attention from the management of the program. But I think given the purpose of the program, it should have highlighted the need to manage the program a little bit better,” O’Brien said.

The purpose of the program is to take some of the money spent in Denver, 25 cents of every $100, and put it to use to help with mental health and substance abuse. Voters approved this in 2018.

The auditor said the department left around $383,000 unused. With interest, he said the city now owes Caring for Denver $438,000.

Mental health funding returned to Caring for Denver

The Department of Public Safety and Caring for Denver said the money has been returned. O’Brien said he does not believe the departments had bad intentions.

“I think the police department wants to comply with the terms and conditions of the grant. I don’t think they knew some of the terms and conditions of the grant and I think now, they are much more familiar with it. Again, I think they are on a solid footing to go forward and administer a good program,” O’Brien said.

Caring for Denver said, thankfully, the dollars that were not used have not impacted their operations.

“We appreciate the Auditor Office’s work to ensure that the Denver Police Department’s (DPD’s) co-responder program is using city taxpayer dollars appropriately. The unused grant funding cited in the report has been returned to the Caring for Denver Foundation, and it is earmarked to go back to the City and County of Denver in our next Alternatives to Jail funding cycle,” Caring for Denver said in a statement.

The Department of Public Safety responded to the audit, saying in part: “The Department values the role of the Auditor’s Office and is grateful for their attention to this, however, it is troublesome to see these findings presented in a way that ignores critical information directly related to the issues the report is attempting to address.”

“The Department of Safety budgeted the full cost of the program knowing that, because of Medicaid and third-party billing and reimbursements, there would be money left unused,” the department said. “Since there is no way to know beforehand how much reimbursements will be, the Department budgets for the full cost of services to ensure the program is not over expended if third-party insurance offset is lower than anticipated. Any remaining funds have already been returned to Caring for Denver.”