Denver, CO

Denver facing ‘crime epidemic, post-pandemic’

David Heitz

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Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen and Director of Public Safety Murphy Robinson said Monday that Denver is facing a “crime epidemic, post pandemic.”

During a news conference with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, they revealed where most of the crime in the city is happening and what they intend to do about it.

They also unveiled the creation of the Transformation in Policy Division within the public safety department. This division will compile input from residents on police reform and then track those ideas online in real time. Information will be shown on an electronic “dashboard,” according to Robinson.

According to Pazen, 1.5 percent of the city’s land mass, not including Denver International Airport, accounts for 26.1 percent of the city’s homicides and aggravated assaults and almost half of all shootings.

Federal, Colfax among hot spots

He said Denver police will begin focusing immediately on five “hot spots” for crime. Those spots include Federal and Alameda, Colfax and Broadway, and 47th Avenue.

Pazen emphasized patrols in those areas have been beefed up, but added, “We are not serving an indictment to business owners and residents.” He explained that to the contrary, police want to engage the community in fighting crime and not just arrest people.

He said the areas have seen “double-digit increases in homicides and shootings against a three-year baseline.” Pazen said the increase began in 2020 and has continued in 2021.

Many people charged with crimes were released from jail due to COVID-19 restrictions. Some have speculated that helped contribute to a spike in crime.

Crime-fighting effort involves entire community

Hancock said Denver isn’t alone in seeing spikes in crime. He said other cities seeing crime epidemics include New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Miami, Chicago, and Austin.

Pazen said police will be getting out of their cars more often in these hotspot areas of Denver. They plan to engage people. They’ll patrol on foot and bicycle and will partner with other city agencies to fight crime. Other agencies may help with everything from graffiti removal, to repairing streetlights, to job assistance for residents of the areas.

Pazen said the department will partner with mental health agencies to hold violators with mental health problems accountable, but also get them mental health assistance. He said he wants to make Denver “the safest, most equitable city in America.”

Hancock said the pandemic has played “mental health gymnastics” on everyone, “on our psyche.” He said people have experienced the “collapse of the economy, losing jobs, locked down, some have experienced loss (due to the pandemic).”

He said many people need a “reset,” whether it come in the form of a new job or mental health support.

Mayor describes ‘pandemic of systemic racism’

Hancock said another pandemic threatens our nation. He said the “Pandemic of systemic racism raised its ugly head” across America last year. He said it’s critical police departments transform their modes of service considering the protests that occurred in Denver and elsewhere.

“We believe we can be better than just reactive,” Pazen affirmed. He said the police department will practice, “A renewed approach to proactive engagement.”

Robinson, who is black, emphasized at the beginning of his remarks, “It is important I acknowledge the death of George Floyd.” He said police departments nationwide are under fire “for disproportionate bias toward people that look like me.”

He also noted that the city’s chief, Pazen, is Latino and aware of bias in police work. Robinson emphasized that such biases no longer will be tolerated in the Denver Police Department.

Where the guns are coming from

Pazen said cities across the country are seeing higher levels of crime because of COVID-19.

He said most of the guns used in crimes in the city’s hotspot areas are stolen. Part of the city’s renewed efforts to decrease crime in the hot spot areas is to promote responsible gun ownership citywide. Pazen said most stolen guns come out of cars, usually ones with the doors unlocked.

Earlier this week, a community task force released a report on more than 100 suggestions for police reform. Some of the suggestions including decriminalizing drug possession and turning a blind eye to prostitution. When a reporter asked Hancock Monday if he supported any of the suggestions, he did not commit to any of the ideas. He said at this time the city is just “engaging the community.”

Pazen said it’s important to “pay attention to the necessary changes that are needed internally” while making sure “the culture in the community makes (officers) want to stay.”

Police nationwide have begun to flee the profession. Early this month, Boulder’s police chief, Maris Herold, said officers are resigning at the rate of almost one per day. Boulder was the sight of a mass shooting earlier this year at a King Sooper’s grocery store.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO
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