Aurora, CO

Despite violent fall, Aurora postpones plan to tackle youth violence

David Heitz

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Despite community pressure to help reduce youth violence after three shootings in November that injured at least nine teens and killed one, Aurora City Council Monday night delayed approving additional money for the Aurora Youth Violence Prevention project until city staff answers questions. 

Council members worried about both the effectiveness of the program and its growing cost.

The annual project costs $1.1 million, and city staff wants the council to approve at least $700,000 more including: 

  • $344,000 for intervention 
  • $266,600 for prevention
  • $58,000 to hire a full-time “violence interrupter” who would reach out to victims after a violent crime and work with people involved in a crime to prevent retaliation.
  • $129,400 to hire three hospital-based intervention workers who would work to reduce retaliatory behaviors. 
  • $157,000 for a full-time clinician specializing in mental health treatment to provide family therapy.

Teens shot in November

Council member Danielle Jurinksy blasted the proposal. "We need to address our gang violence problem, and this needs to be under public safety," she said.

"I also doubt that these gang members are going to be taking yoga or wondering when the next poet is speaking," she said, referring to the many events the city created to divert youth from violence. "Sixteen teens shot in Aurora in November. This is what we are talking about. This is not a coat drive, and gathering turkeys, and yoga in the parking lot."

But council member Ruben Medina told Jurinsky it is "asinine" to say that all troubled youths are gang members.

Jurinsky also criticized city staff for granting an organization $5,000 to spearhead a coat drive. She wondered why a church could not do that for free. "I am a hard sell for anything in this presentation," she said.

Project 'like a massive program'

Mayor Pro Tem Francoise Bergen said she was "overwhelmed" by the staff's Youth Violence Prevention Program presentation. "This has blown up," she said of the project. "It's like a massive program."

Bergen wanted to know why the budget had line items for therapists. "What programs does the county have that we could just refer people to instead of spending money?" she asked. "Schools also have received a lot of money."

Bergen said when the council decided to fund the project last year, she thought the program would spend money to develop programs aimed at high-risk youth. She was not expecting the city to add full-time jobs.

Organizations may apply for funds

Under the proposal, groups providing services to youths would apply for grants from the city. 

"A notice of funding opportunity will be released to allow for a competitive process for organizations to apply for funds," according to a city staff report. 

"A panel will be selected to review applications and identify the awardees. Awarded organizations will have different performance measures, agreement requirements and receive different funding amounts depending on which of the three strategic categories they receive funding for."

Bergen said she did not believe the funding process seemed fair. Other council members agreed.

But council member Alison Coombs said the city must act now to reduce youth violence. "What the community is saying is, 'You need to do more, now.'"

A primary goal of the Youth Violence Prevention Program is to provide safe spaces to children who may otherwise have poor home lives. The city has given 112 youths free recreation center passes since the program began.

Council member says baseball helped ground him

Council member Juan Marcano lauded the program. He said that 2,400 youths took advantage of pop-up activities and safe zones provided by the city. "This seems to provide a kind of structure or even escape from a troubling experience at home," Marcano said.

He said baseball helped ground him as a child. "The structure of diversionary activities like that and the community building that comes as a result is really something that sticks with people, especially during the formative years. Getting out of a hostile environment for an evening, or several evenings out of the year, can really make a difference."

Marcano said the recreation centers should be free for all children in Aurora all the time. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Vote delayed

The council will consider the project again either during a special study session or at the next scheduled study session on Jan. 17. 

Mayor Mike Coffman said the bill is urgent, and he will work with stakeholders to come up with a compromise.

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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 local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

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