Aurora, CO

Aurora revisits gang prevention program it canceled

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) After a divided Aurora City Council did not fund the city's Youth Violence Prevention Project earlier this month, the city will reconsider a gang program canceled in 2018.

The council will discuss the former A-GRIP program at its study session at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Usually held on Monday, the meeting was rescheduled due to Martin Luther King Day.

A-GRIP is an acronym for Aurora's Gang Reduction Impact Program. Police Chief Vanessa Wilson and Jessica Prosser, director of housing and community services, will present information about how the gang intervention program blazed the trail for the Youth Violence Prevention Project.

"A-GRIP was the catalyst for a multi-agency partnership to include community-based, organizations, places of worship, and criminal justice agencies," according to a city staff report. "YVPP builds on the A-GRIP approach to include … other national models to support the implementation of a balanced approach that is inclusive of prevention and intervention responses."

'Largely successful' but only two graduates

The A-GRIP program was "largely successful," according to the staff report. But only 25 youths received case management, and only two graduated from the program, according to city data.

"The A-GRIP program heavily focused on implementing an intervention response," according to the staff report.

"Additionally, the program contracted with a non-profit to provide the outreach services, and minimal prevention efforts that included community events and funding for organizations to offer other youth programming activities."

Gang awareness presentations reach 800 people

During its eight-year tenure, outreach workers contacted 70 youths. They provided 29 gang awareness presentations reaching almost 800 people.

A-GRIP participated in 15 community events to raise its visibility among parents.

Although 124 youths were referred for gang-risk assessments, only 56 were assessed during the program's eight-year span.

Program canceled in 2018

The council canceled the program in 2018 when its funding ran out. The program received money from the red-light photo enforcement program.

The program had four outreach workers and a program director. It included a blueprint for community mobilization around gang prevention and providing youngsters with more opportunities. The YVPP contains similar components.

The A-GRIP program included "close supervision or monitoring of gang youth by agencies of the criminal justice system and also by community-based agencies, schools, and grassroots groups," according to the staff report.

Concurrently, the Aurora Police Department administered the GREAT curriculum in the schools. GREAT is short for Gang Resistance Education and Training.

YVPP's $1.8 million budget

In response to several shootings involving youth in Aurora, the city directed a task force to create the YVPP. Its $1.8 million annual budget would include:

· $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 supply family therapy.

Both programs funded non-profits

The YVPP program would include $1.1 million in available grant money that community groups could apply for to fund youth programs. Earlier this month, several council members said it seemed irresponsible to allow groups to apply for city handouts, even with conditions.

But the A-GRIP program also funded non-profits over eight years for $2.24 million, including:

· Juvenile Assessment Center, $649,208

· Friends for Youth, $506,311

· CU School of Public Health, $183,742

· Mile-High Behavioral Health, $223,148

· HoodMonsters, $95,833

· Omni Institute, $76,427

· VOA Camp Postcard, $25,000.

Lessons learned from A-GRIP

There were some lessons learned from the A-GRIP program. "Providing a spectrum of prevention, intervention, and suppression efforts is key to program effectiveness," the staff report stressed. "A dedicated source of ongoing funding, such as surcharge funding, is needed for long-term program sustainability."

The Aurora City Council is half Democrat, half Republican with a Republican tie-breaking mayor. The conversation at the Jan. 3 City Council meeting split along party lines, with the Republican members of the council concerned about the program's cost. That discussion led to the study session scheduled for Tuesday.

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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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