Aurora, CO

Aurora Council: Improving public safety must be 'top priority'

David Heitz
Haile Selassie Woldegebrieal, who owns a 7-Eleven at 1795 N. Peoria St., meets with Aurora Police.Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman's Facebook page

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Aurora, Colo.) Aurora City Council member Dustin Zvonek says improving public safety is his top priority. He believes all council members should put keeping the peace at the top of their lists.

Zvonek introduced a resolution during Monday's city council study session that formalizes prioritizing police protection.

"Nearly every day, Aurora is tragically reminded of the violent crime that continues to climb to unprecedented levels," the resolution reads. "Over the last year, addressing crime was a common concern that we heard from citizens in every corner of the city, and we vowed that improving public safety would be a top priority.

"As members of council, we believe there is no greater responsibility than ensuring the safety of our citizens," the resolution continues. "Unfortunately, current trends suggest that not enough is currently being done to address the crime wave sweeping across our city and that must change."

Four council members voted against setting the resolution for a vote next week. Democratic members Alison Coombs, Juan Marco, Ruben Medina and Crystal Murillo said it seemed partisan and unnecessary.

Dzvonek’s proposal received support from his Republican colleagues. “I don’t understand why there is any opposition to this,” said Mayor Pro Tem Francoise Bergan. She noted that crime is the top concern she hears from her constituents.

The council likely will vote on the matter March 28.

What the resolution requires of the city

The resolution outlines several steps toward a safer Aurora, including:

· Directing the city manager to work with city departments and Council to develop and implement a comprehensive crime reduction plan.

· Staff the Aurora Police Department fully, "including all specialty units critical to building and maintaining community relationships, and all officers have access to ongoing and industry-leading training."

· Improving data collection and using "hot spot analysis" to deploy more officers to critical neighborhoods.

· Restoring the city's anti-gang program, A-GRIP, or Aurora Gang Reduction Impact Program. The program will address youth violence both through immediate intervention and long-term prevention.

· Beefing up the number of clinicians on the Aurora Crisis Response Team to make more mental health professionals available on the police beat.

· Targeting public health and safety concerns arising from the city's homeless encampments. The Council will take a final vote next week to outlaw urban camping.

· Requiring city staff to make quarterly updates on the strategy to the Council's Safety Committee.

Zvonek blames failed state policies

Zvonek criticizes failed state policies. "We recognize that the growing wave of crime threatening the safety of Coloradans is in large part a result of the policies passed by state lawmakers creating hurdles that will be difficult to overcome," the resolution states. "But as local elected officials, public safety must be a top priority, and we can't wait for the Colorado General Assembly to act."

The Aurora City Council, consisting of five Democrats and five Republicans, often deadlocks, so the Republican mayor breaks tie votes.

The council's two factions operate from differing worldviews. The Democrats express concerns about expanding police powers. They believe the urban camping ban criminalizes homelessness. The resolution also targets urban camping.

The council agrees that data should inform policy, but the group frequently argues over what data is accurate and what's fake.

“When preparing policy statements, they should be about policy and not opining,” councilmember Alison Coombs scolded Zvonek. “You’re stating a lot of opinions without backing them up with data.”

Immigrant seeks the American dream

In a Facebook post last week, Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman described the plight of an immigrant seeking the American dream. He met with Haile Selassie Woldegebrieal, who owns a 7-Eleven at 1795 N. Peoria St.

The Ethiopian immigrant was injured by a gunshot during an armed robbery in his store last year, Coffman said. He said the store is in "a tough area."

Coffman met with Woldegebrieal March 17. The Police Area Representative, or PAR officer for the neighborhood, goes on patrol due to a shortage of Aurora police officers.

Coffman met with Woldegebrieal and Aurora Police Sergeant David Sandoval to discuss keeping the 7-Eleven safe during the PAR officer's absence.

Aurora Mobile Response Team pilot project

The Council also heard an update Monday on the Aurora Mobile Response Team, or AMRT. These duos, comprised of a paramedic and a mental health professional, respond to calls that don't require an armed response.

According to Courtney Tassin, mental health program manager in the city's Housing and Community Services Department:

· Aurora 911 (dispatch) identified 885 calls appropriate for an AMRT response. The AMRT responded to 193 calls during the same period.

· Most of the calls were resolved at the scene (82 percent) and did not require higher levels of care, such as the emergency department.

· Estimated savings from the program is $64,000. Cost savings come from not needing to use the hospital emergency department ($48,840) and using AMRT for low-intensity mental health calls, allowing officers to respond to more pertinent criminal calls (saving $14,450).

"AMRT appropriate calls for service are being identified at all hours of the day, every day," according to a report by Tassin. "The need for additional mental health resources in the City of Aurora is evident through data collected through dispatch, the AMRT, and community feedback.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career at local newspapers. Today, I report on Denver and Aurora city halls for NewsBreak. Prior to joining NewsBreak, I worked several years as a health reporter and branded content writer in the healthcare space. I also worked many years as a news editor and city editor. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver.

Denver, CO

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