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Denver's plan to cool down gang violence

Bryan Butler, Terrance Roberts and John Lewis of the Prodigal Son Initiative work with youth in northeast Park Hill.

James Chapman was in the back of his T-shirt shop in northeast Park Hill, finishing up a custom airbrush job, when he heard gunshots. Seconds later, a young man came stumbling through the front door, dripping blood on the yellowing linoleum floor.

"I said, 'Are you shot?'" Chapman recalls.

He said he was, and Chapman, a thin, older man who uses a motorized wheelchair, directed him to the bathroom. He gave the kid a towel, told him to put pressure on the spot where the bullet had ripped a hole in his face, and called the police. "I was like, 'God, don't let him die, and don't let nobody else come through that front door,'" says Chapman, who is used to gang violence in his neighborhood.

The cops responded quickly. They turned Chapman's crowded shop into a crime scene as spectators gathered in the parking lot outside, despite the 100-degree heat. The investigation took a while, and Chapman didn't leave until just after 8 p.m. As he drove home, he saw more police cars streaming down the streets, sirens blaring.

They were headed to City Park, where Denver police officer Celena Hollis had just been fatally shot as she tried to break up a fight at City Park Jazz. The man who was arrested in that case claimed to be a member of a gang, according to reports.

For many people, the combination of this high-profile tragedy and smaller incidents like the one outside Chapman's store has brought back memories of a string of gang shootings in 1993 and what the Rocky Mountain News then dubbed the "Summer of Violence." The police have hesitated to say the fight in City Park was gang-related, and Mayor Michael Hancock has tried to downplay people's fears.

"We don't believe that we are seeing evidence of another Summer of Violence, but we certainly aren't going to sit back and allow it to continue to grow in that direction," he said on June 25, the morning after Officer Hollis was killed.

Still, the Denver Police Department has reported six murders related to, or motivated by, gang activity between January and May. That's up from five deaths during the same period last year and three each in 2008, 2009 and 2010. There have also been several non-fatal shootings and stabbings tied to gangs, but the police haven't released the specific numbers. They haven't released much information about the shooting outside Chapman's store, either, though they have confirmed that it's being investigated by the department's gang unit.

Police chalk up the violence to personal beefs between specific gang members rather than a gang war. But the sheer number of shootings — and the fact that some happened in the middle of the day, in plain view of bystanders — has caused alarm, prompting neighborhood meetings, candlelight vigils and citywide forums.

To coordinate these efforts, the city is pushing a relatively new program called the Gang Reduction Initiative of Denver, or GRID. The program began in earnest in 2010, when Denver was awarded a $2.2 million federal grant to develop "a comprehensive gang model." It's a way of attacking the gang problem by making connections between agencies that deal with the different causes, results and symptoms of the scourge.

Those agencies include neighborhood groups campaigning for more after-school programs and therapists who help kids in gang-riddled neighborhoods deal with stress. Cops, probation and parole officers, clergy members, social workers and doctors are also involved. The idea is that everyone wants the same thing: less gang violence.

But previous collective efforts at dealing with gang violence have fallen apart or faded away, and some of Denver's long-running gang prevention and intervention groups are skeptical of GRID and resentful of how much money the city was awarded.

GRID project manager Paul Callanan, a former probation officer, understands that, and he's careful to give credit to the groups that have been fighting gang violence for years. GRID is not trying to put existing programs out of business and create better ones, he says. Instead, the project is about evaluating the services Denver already has, eradicating duplication, filling in the gaps and fostering partnerships between agencies that are doing good work alone but could be doing great work together.

"We're asking all these agencies to take a different look at how they're addressing gang violence," Callanan explains, "and to not just say, 'We've always done it this way.'"

GRID could get its first real test this summer if temperatures and tempers remain hot.

**********

To understand Denver's response to gang violence, you have to go back to the so-called Summer of Violence. That year, 74 people were murdered in the city. Homicides were actually down from the previous year, but the summer of '93 saw several high-profile shootings that claimed innocent victims, including kids accidentally shot in drive-bys and a ten-month-old hit by a stray bullet at the Denver Zoo. Many shootings and assaults were tied to gangs, and the Denver Post reported that nearly half of the homicide victims were teenagers. The Rocky later reported that nearly one out of every four murder suspects arrested in Denver in 1993 was a juvenile male.

Heavy media exposure led to a public outcry, which prompted the city and state to act. Then-mayor Wellington Webb created the Safe City Office and set aside $1 million for grants to programs that worked with troubled youth. Then-governor Roy Romer called a special session of the legislature that resulted in tougher laws for youth offenders and money to expand juvenile prisons, and in 1994, lawmakers created a $7.6 million fund for community programs aimed at keeping kids away from gangs.

In Denver, a few organizations were already working with youth involved in violent gangs such as the Bloods and the Crips, which had spread to Colorado from California in the mid-'80s. They included the Reverend Leon Kelly's Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives, founded in 1986, and the Gang Rescue and Support Project (GRASP), founded in 1991. But these groups were competing for the same fundraising dollars, so in 1993 they decided to hash things out.

"There were a handful of agencies providing various services at various levels around this gang-related issue, and they were sometimes working at cross purposes with each other," recalls Regina Huerter, now executive director of the Denver Crime Prevention and Control Commission. "Very quickly, we decided we needed to have more people at the table and that we needed to coordinate."

Thus, the Metro Denver Gang Coalition was born. It included Open Door, GRASP and the Spot, a now-shuttered hip-hop-focused youth drop-in center, as well as faith leaders, school administrators and social-service providers. "We would sit in a circle and just kind of talk about different issues taking place on the streets and what different agencies were doing, and we'd try to network," Huerter says.

Over time, the groups pooled their resources to apply for grants. In 1999 the Coalition won a three-year federal grant that allowed it to hire a few staff members, including Francisco Gallardo, the program director of GRASP. The staff hosted training sessions, built a database of service providers and organized a crisis team.

But the grant money dried up in 2002, and state lawmakers — facing a budget shortfall that same year — vetoed a request to put $7.6 million into the special fund they'd created in 1994, which had since been renamed the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program. Without sufficient dollars to pay the staff, the Coalition fizzled out.

Huerter takes the blame, though no one else seems to fault her. "I was running the juvenile diversion program for the DA's office, and I didn't have the time to keep it going, so we largely stopped meeting," Huerter says. "The agencies, both gang-specific and non-gang-specific, continued their work to the degree they could."

Then, on New Year's Day 2007, another high-profile gang-related shooting reverberated through Denver. Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was killed in a drive-by after some of his entourage got into an altercation with gang members at a Golden Triangle nightclub. Gang murders were once again in the headlines, and the Denver City Council granted District Attorney Mitch Morrissey $350,000 to help solve the crime.

Shortly thereafter, the Metro Denver Gang Coalition reconvened. To say its rebirth was the result of the murder of a sports star would be to discount all of the non-famous people — the brothers, sons and teenage fathers — who'd been killed in the intervening five years, the group's members say. But the attention and resources heaped onto the Williams homicide acted as a catalyst. "Those working in it knew it never went away," Huerter says. "But for me, it was an opportunity to say, 'Can we please come back together again and try to deal with this issue in a comprehensive way?'"

The first meeting drew more than a hundred people, though the number dwindled as 2007 wore on. Lauren Casteel, the vice president of philanthropic partnerships at the Denver Foundation, which awards millions of dollars each year to arts, health, education and human-services organizations, was at the table, and in July 2007, the Denver Foundation gave the Coalition a $16,173 grant to help pay for outreach workers. The next year, the Foundation gave $65,611 to the city's Crime Prevention and Control Commission to hire someone to coordinate the development of Denver's version of a comprehensive gang model. The Coalition researched programs in other cities, such as the Boston Gun Project and Chicago's CeaseFire, and brainstormed its own ideas.

But there were disagreements. "You have turf issues and you have philosophical issues," GRID's Callanan says. "The prevention school is saying, 'We need prevention.' The intervention school is saying, 'We need to work with the older guys.' And suppression is saying, 'We need to hammer these guys.'" In the end, GRID tackled all of it.

"Our project is not to keep all kids out of gangs or to eradicate gangs," Callanan says. "Those are two impossible goals."

Instead, GRID has four realistic ones: to reduce violence in northeast and southwest Denver; improve collaboration among agencies; change the behavior of youth who receive intervention services; and change the attitude that gang violence is normal in certain neighborhoods. The $2.2 million grant that Denver received in 2010 from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention allowed the real planning process to begin. After a few years of behind-the-scenes negotiating and gradually rolling out different partnerships, the entire project launched in January of this year. Though it's housed in the Safe City Office, a steering committee oversees its direction.

GRID only has two full-time employees, including Callanan. The $2.2 million also funds six outreach workers, two prevention coordinators, one adult probation officer and a job trainer. There's a small chunk of money for police overtime for coordinated operations, and another chunk for grants to faith-based efforts and community nonprofits. GRID also pays for training on gang-related subjects; in two years, it's hosted 72 sessions and trained more than 3,500 people from various agencies.

But mostly, GRID relies on making connections between existing programs and convincing them that the strategies it is pushing are worth paying for — which organizers see as a more sustainable plan than just handing out money. "We focus on coordination," Callanan says. "Everybody has a role, and it's already what you're doing."

Gallardo describes GRID as the phoenix that rose from the ashes of the Metro Denver Gang Coalition. It might not be perfect, he says, but "it makes people feel that Denver gives a shit. You can say that the city really does care.

"My biggest thing," he adds, "is having people be patient with the process."

**********

"Miss, I got a question for you. Are you a cop?"

The pudgy ten-year-old isn't shy about blurting out the question, just as he hadn't been shy last week about telling the class that he knew where to get a gun. Not wanting to call attention to what he'd said at the time, Laura Sanchez pretended she hadn't heard him. This week, she looks him in the eye and answers calmly. "No," she says. "I'm a probation officer."

Sanchez is one of two Denver juvenile probation officers who work for GRID as prevention coordinators. Her main job is to teach the G.R.E.A.T. Program, which stands for Gang Resistance Education and Training. It's a course much like D.A.R.E., but it teaches elementary and middle-school students to stay away from gangs. G.R.E.A.T. is new to Denver, and during the past school year, Sanchez taught it at four schools in the northeast part of the city. This summer, she's doing a modified version at the Boys and Girls Club Camp H.E.R.O., a free camp at Manual High School attended by 290 kids each day.

The campers choose their own activities, and on this stiflingly hot Monday afternoon, three boys and three girls come to a stuffy classroom to learn about gangs. It's clear they've already gotten an education from the streets, so Sanchez throws out a few statements — gangs will protect you, snitching is bad, girls don't join gangs — and asks whether they're true. One boy offers his own: "People say that if you want to be in a gang, you have to shoot somebody, and to get out of a gang, you have to get shot."

"That's not always true," Sanchez says. There are lots of ways to be initiated into a gang, she says; some are harmless and some are hurtful. Girls are often "sexed in." If you date a gang member, Sanchez warns, he might offer you up to the rest of the gang.

That catches the attention of a thin girl in short shorts and a sparkly zip-up sweatshirt who's spent most of the hour whispering to her friends and doodling on her hand. "Miss, can I talk to you?" she asks timidly after the class is over.

Sanchez pulls up a plastic chair. "You're going to tell me you have a boyfriend who's a gang member, aren't you?" Sanchez asks. The girl nods. He's a Crip, she says, and she tells Sanchez his first name. Her parents don't know they're dating; she's only eleven and her boyfriend is twelve. Sanchez asks if he's violent. The girl hesitates. He's beaten people up, she says, including another boy who slapped her butt on the light rail.

"What are you going to do?" Sanchez asks.

"I think I'm going to break up with him," the girl says. She's tried before, but the boyfriend always ends up crying and she takes him back. Sanchez gives the girl some advice, a hug and her business card. "Now, that's my personal cell phone," she says.

Moments like that happen all the time, say Sanchez and Deborah Garcia Sandoval, who teaches the G.R.E.A.T. program in southwest Denver. Part of their job is to offer case management to the younger siblings or children of gang members to divert them from following suit. "This is trying to get them before they're adjudicated," says Garcia Sandoval, who's been a probation officer for 21 years.

G.R.E.A.T. is easily the most fully formed of GRID's prevention strategies. The others include mobilizing neighborhoods to do positive projects and developing a "safe passage" program to ensure that kids feel safe walking to school. Another idea is a partnership between the Denver police and Denver Human Services to have a social worker follow up after cops raid a gang house where children also live. Oftentimes, kids are forced to watch the police toss their apartments and arrest their big brothers.

The police are already collaborating with parole and probation. Part of GRID's suppression strategy is to facilitate meetings between law enforcement agencies to discuss gang activity and plan a coordinated response. Scott Prendergast, a supervisor of adult probation in Denver, is a regular at the meetings. Denver is the only city in Colorado that has a gang unit in its probation department. Formed six years ago, it's made up of three officers who supervise about 100 offenders at any given time. The officers are specially trained to understand gang life — and the difficulties of leaving it behind.

For more than a year, GRID has coordinated joint operations between police, parole and probation. Using crime-mapping technology, the police figure out which neighborhoods — and which specific blocks — are hot that month, and law enforcement pays a visit to the offenders who live there and have been identified as high-risk gang members. "We let them know, 'There was violence in your area, and if you're involved, we're going to find out,'" Prendergast says.

Prendergast says GRID has formalized the relationship between the various agencies. Whereas before he may have known a few cops whom he could count on, there's now a steady stream of information passing between probation and police.

For example, a while ago, the police got a call from an elementary school in northeast Denver reporting that Hispanic students weren't coming to school because they were afraid to walk by a particular house. Black gang members lived there, and they were taunting the kids; the school suspected it was partly racial and partly because the gangsters assumed they were associated with a rival gang. The police pulled the homeowner's information and ran the last name by probation. Prendergast's unit had an offender with the same name, and the officers asked him if he knew the residents.

"He said, 'That's not my house, but it's my family,'" Prendergast says. The offender was an O.G. who'd been dealing drugs since he was eleven but who had always been careful not to get too greedy — or get caught. He was finally arrested when a cop pulled him over for a traffic stop and found a tiny bit of crack in his pocket.

The probation officers told him about the trouble and asked if he could help. "A couple days later, he comes in and says, 'They're moving,'" Prendergast says. "Apparently, he went there and said, 'You're bringing in heat. Unless you want your world to fall apart, leave the kids alone.' Because he's an O.G., they decided to move.

"That's an example of how GRID works together to solve a problem."

**********

Much of GRID, however, focuses on intervention. The six outreach workers are key to that strategy. None of them works directly for GRID; they're paid by GRID funds but are housed in two existing anti-gang organizations: GRASP and the Prodigal Son Initiative, a nonprofit started by former Blood Terrance Roberts that offers after-school programs, field trips and a safe place to hang out for the kids who live in northeast Park Hill.

At first, Roberts wanted nothing to do with GRID. Like Reverend Kelly, he prefers to direct his efforts toward prevention, not intervention.

Those efforts are manifested on a sunny Sunday morning in June. Just after 9 a.m., Roberts pulls up to the Prodigal Son headquarters, at East 33rd Avenue and Hudson Street, across the street from where Crips burned down the Holly Square Shopping Center in 2008. He shares the formerly abandoned building with state senator Michael Johnston, who's attended and helped organize several of the recent meetings about gang violence. The low-slung brick building is in the heart of Bloods territory, and a week or two after Johnston moved in, a shooting left three bullet holes in the siding.

Today is the first of Prodigal Son's five summer field trips — and the most unpopular. The kids would rather go paintballing or ride roller coasters at Elitch Gardens than go on a hike at Chautauqua Park in Boulder. By 9:30, only two thirteen-year-old girls have shown up.

"This is the kind of stuff I want you guys to be doing!" Roberts tells them.

"I know," one says, "but people be lazy!"

Roberts's cell phone buzzes; two boys want to come, too. A volunteer picks them up and brings them to Prodigal Son, but there's a problem: One of the boys is wearing slip-on sandals, a surefire way to twist an ankle while hiking. Roberts is quick with a solution, digging out a pair of sneakers from a trash bag full of shoe donations for Haiti.

None of the kids are expert hikers — one girl has never hiked in her life — but they're determined once they hit the trail. The boys run ahead, sprinting past experts with Camelbacks and families with dogs. They're quiet on the way up, and on the way down, they talk about Biggie and Tupac. If they notice that they're the only African-Americans on the trail, they don't mention it. When asked why they decided to come, one boy shrugs: "It gave me something to do," he says. Roberts, who was shot in the back during the Summer of Violence, knows all too well what the alternatives are.

"Should we let those two young men become Bloods?" he asks along the trail. "Why would you even allow a kid to get in a gang and then hope they choose to get out?"

Roberts was also wary of GRID's funding structure, a concern shared by Kelly. "When GRID came through, it showed some promise," Kelly says. "We'd have meetings with them, and it was said that certain resources and money would be given to our neighborhoods. But come to find out, it didn't turn out that way."

Kelly's been around long enough to see various gang initiatives come and go. The walls of his seventh-floor office off the 16th Street Mall are lined floor to ceiling with awards and photos. Some of them feature Kelly with famous people like boxer Evander Holyfield, but most are photos of kids from the streets. Kelly can point to any one of them and tell a sad story. "He's dead," Kelly says. "He's dead. Peanut's gone. That's John." John called earlier that day. It was a collect call; he was in jail again.

But Kelly doesn't wish GRID ill. He's just made a decision to stay out of it and focus instead on his long-running after-school program in the Cole neighborhood. "Any efforts out there I applaud, because it's better than nothing," he says. "It's cool if you're filling voids, but in some sense, it would be nice to have the resources spread around.... I trip a little bit when the people in the trenches, doing what we do, don't have the resources."

Roberts shares that belief but says he came to realize that it can't all be about prevention. At least not yet. "My heart is still dead set on the only way to end violence is to stop recruitment [into gangs]," he says. He has his own plan for doing so. While Crips use blue to recruit and Bloods use red, Roberts is pushing for Park Hill — and all of Denver — to adopt camouflage as its signature look. That way, kids can feel like they belong to something. "But why I wanted to come back to the table [with GRID]," he continues, "is because I do care about the men and women caught up in the system."

"Even gangsters need a hand," says Bryan Butler, one of Prodigal Son's two GRID-funded outreach workers. Butler and John Lewis, whom everyone calls Qwest, have been with Prodigal Son since January. They're still developing their roles, but they hope to work intensely with a couple dozen youth a year to help them realize that gangbanging doesn't lead to anything good.

"The thing we're strong on is mentoring," Lewis says. "It's good for them to see someone from the 'hood living a professional life. 'If I can go to school and work in television, you can, too.'" Lewis grew up in Montbello and used to work for the Altitude television network as an audio engineer. "We're just teaching them to be men," he adds, "and telling them when they're bullshitting."

Lewis and Butler expect to find most of their clients on the streets of northeast Park Hill. But GRID also holds monthly meetings of what it's dubbed the Intervention Support Team, a collection of representatives from various government and community agencies that interact with gang-involved youth. If a certain youth (boys and girls ages 14 to 24) meets GRID's criteria — if he has weapons charges, for example, or if she's just getting out of prison — an outreach worker will be assigned to work alongside that youth's official case manager. Callanan estimates that GRID's six outreach workers have a total of 35 cases right now, but he hopes that number will grow to 100 by the end of the year.

Jessica Cassarino also attends the Intervention Support Team, or IST, meetings. As GRID's opportunities provision coordinator, her job is to help 16- to 24-year-olds who are affiliated with a gang, or are at high risk to join one, find jobs or enroll in school. She gets many of her referrals from the probation officers and outreach workers affiliated with GRID. Cassarino started in June 2010, and says that about 90 percent of the youth she's worked with have rap sheets. Some have committed armed robbery or aggravated assault, and a few were involved in the Holly Square arson. Working with the IST ensures that their cases don't fall through the cracks. "Because they're taking notes [at the meetings] and it's a formal setting, we're able to hold each other accountable," she says.

The Mental Health Center of Denver is also part of GRID's intervention strategy. MHCD has developed a trauma treatment program called Project RISE for youth ages eleven to seventeen who have witnessed violence. It's a group that meets for sixteen sessions and teaches kids how to handle stress. "A lot of the symptoms of traumatic stress make them even more at risk for joining gangs," explains Lynn Garst, MHCD's associate director.

GRID doesn't pay for Project RISE; instead, it's funded through a two-year $760,000 federal grant that ends this September. Nearly all of the 180 kids who've gone through the program thus far come from violent neighborhoods. Many have family members who are gang members, and some are toying with joining themselves. Project manager Beth Tamborski describes the youth as "emotionally volatile." If someone looks at them crooked, they're likely to blow up and shout, "Quit staring at me!"

Garst is also part of the GRID Intervention Support Team. Outreach workers and G.R.E.A.T. coordinators refer kids to Project RISE, and on the flip side, Garst refers Project RISE kids to Cassarino and GRASP, which offers groups for gang youth.

That type of partnership, which is free, is the essence of GRID. And GRID is eager to add more partners to its network. One organization Callanan recently made contact with is the Youth Connection, a nonprofit founded in 2010 by several former employees of the Spot. The Youth Connection works with what it terms "disconnected youth" — kids who are homeless, aging out of foster care or belong to gangs — and helps them find jobs, get their GEDs or enroll in school. The organization's founders dream of securing a building that would allow them to engage kids through the urban arts — breakdancing, graffiti, hip-hop — much like the Spot did in its heyday.

"Denver really likes their silos: You stay over here and I'll stay over here," says Heidi Grove, co-founder of the Youth Connection. "That doesn't get anything done.... You need to eliminate the silos and bring mental health, substance abuse, education and employment, law enforcement, probation and parole to the table to say, 'Here's your expertise, what do you think? What's your perspective?'"

"This isn't about people getting money," Callanan says. "It's about, how can we partner to stop the violence?"

**********

The violence is on display every Friday night in the hectic hallways and operating rooms of the Denver Health emergency department. Workers at Denver's trauma center have grown accustomed to a steady parade of bloody bullet holes, stab wounds and baseball-bat beatings. As such, their attitude toward those patients, some of whom they see again and again, hasn't always been compassionate, says ER doctor Katie Bakes.

"There was a lot of negative sentiment about that population among our staff," Bakes says. For decades, the doctors and nurses felt powerless to help those young men and women, many of whom were gang members and continually put themselves in harm's way. So the staff detached themselves emotionally, figuring that the best they could do was patch them up, release them to the streets and pray they didn't come back.

That began to change a few years ago, however, when Callanan's predecessor at GRID approached Bakes with the idea of surveying young people in Denver Health's waiting room about their gang involvement. Bakes didn't think that strategy would work, but she'd recently read about another that she thought might: a program in Oakland called Caught in the Crossfire that had an outreach worker respond to the hospital whenever a young person showed up with a violent injury. The outreach worker would help the youth cope with his or her injury and talk about alternatives to retaliation.

"It struck me as a unique opportunity to take advantage of a teachable moment, when the consequences of their risky behavior are very concrete," Bakes says. Through GRID, she met Gallardo, who offered to teach the Denver Health staff about gangs, why young people join and how they get out. "There are perceptions we all have that are taken from the media that once you get in, you can't get out," Bakes says. "What we learned...is that it's very possible to get out. It's just a matter of finding healthy alternatives."

That knowledge made the staff feel less hopeless — and open to trying a Caught in the Crossfire-type program in Denver. In October 2011, the At-Risk Intervention and Mentoring Program, or AIM, was born. Two GRID-funded outreach workers began rotating spending every Friday night from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. at Denver Health. In January, four more joined. The six outreach workers are also on call.

Bakes calls what they do "a little miracle." Victims of gang violence usually come to the ER by ambulance, and they usually come alone. The outreach workers are so schooled in gang culture that they can pick out a gangster as soon as he or she is wheeled through the door, just by taking stock of what they're wearing, the way they talk or their tattoos. After the doctors have done their thing, the workers pay them a visit.

"Psychologically, they don't know what's going on," says GRASP outreach worker Johnny Santos. "They feel comfortable when we're there." That initial contact isn't about browbeating them into leaving the gang or scaring them straight. Instead, the outreach workers offer a friendly ear and help with the small things. Santos remembers one fourteen-year-old kid who looked like he was on the verge of tears: "I was like, 'You want me to close the door? You want to cry?' And he's like, 'I don't have to cry.' And I said, 'Your homies ain't here. Your mom ain't here. Go ahead and let it out'" — and he did.

If the victims seem receptive, Santos uses an analogy: Gangs are like a bad relationship; they're like that girl about whom everyone says, "Naw, don't go with her, man." He confides that there is no secret to leaving a gang. "We say, 'Just fade away.'" The outreach workers don't heed that advice, though: After the patient is discharged, they continue to follow up with him or her. Santos estimates it takes the average gangbanger two to three years to decide to leave that life — and the friends, money and status that come with it.

Before AIM, before GRID, before doctors and nurses welcomed outreach workers — some of whom know the street life because they lived it themselves — into the hospital, Santos still sometimes showed up if the family or the victim called him. He remembers those visits as being awkward. Denver Health didn't understand what he was doing or why. But now, he says, "everybody is at the table, and that's what we need."

On a recent Friday night, Santos shows up at the ER wearing cargo pants, a black GRASP T-shirt, a black baseball cap and running sneakers. At about midnight, he and AIM's brand-new project manager, Sara Muramoto, whose salary is being paid by Denver Health — a prime example of what Callanan calls "leveraging dollars" — begin to circle the ER, peeking in patient rooms and stopping to read the flat-screen monitors that list details about patients like those relaying flight information at the airport. Things don't usually heat up until after 2 a.m., but there's already an assault victim in his early twenties in one of the rooms. He's intoxicated, though, and doesn't want to talk.

So Santos and Muramoto keep wandering. There's a Spanish-speaking young man in the hallway suffering from a deep, work-related cut. Santos stops to explain to him in Spanish why the doctors haven't stitched it up yet. At about 12:30 a.m., a bloodied and moaning man is wheeled into the ER; Santos and Muramoto follow the gurney to a room near the back of the ER and listen as the paramedics brief the nurses about what happened. Santos glances at his tattoos; they're blurry and faded — prison tattoos. Plus, the man is easily in his thirties and thus falls outside the demographic AIM hopes to target.

And so they wait. Unfortunately, it won't be long.

But maybe, if the GRID partnerships work, someday it will.


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