Denver DA Blasts High Crime Rate About Downtown, Talks Current State | Westword


Denver DA Blasts High Crime Rate Claims About LoDo, Gives Thoughts on City's Current State

District Attorney Beth McCann shared her outlook on crime in downtown Denver — pointing out that it's actually down, despite what people think.
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann shared her outlook on crime in the Mile High City.
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann shared her outlook on crime in the Mile High City. Catie Cheshire
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Standing inside Tony Tenderonis on Wednesday, November 29, a restaurant in the 1900 block of Market Street — an area known for partying and criminal mishaps — District Attorney Beth McCann described LoDo as "a jewel" of the Mile High City.

“We have seen a reduction in crime around this area, both violent crime and property crime," McCann told business owners and residents in attendance. “I know probably some of you don't necessarily feel that way, but the reality is crime is going down.”

McCann had been invited by the LoDo District and the Lower Downtown Neighborhood Association to talk about unsafe and nuisance behavior in the area, but she wound up divulging details on how city officials view crime in the area as a whole, as well as ongoing trends. Those in attendance may not have seen eye to eye with the DA on every topic, but they all agreed on one thing: LoDo is fighting a perception battle.

“A lot of us who live and work in downtown are comfortable — 99 percent of the time, we’re comfortable,” resident David Roberts told Westword after the meeting. “News people everywhere emphasize the negative, and that scares people. We’ll always be fighting that.”

During the gathering, Roberts pointed out that even though those who frequent downtown find it safe, people who haven't been there simply don’t believe them. He cited Downtown Denver Partnership statistics showing the overwhelming majority of people who go to businesses and places downtown live in suburban areas; Roberts said he hoped McCann’s work to combat crime this year would help make those visitors feel safe.

McCann had positive news: As Westword chronicled earlier this year, crime was actually down around Union Station and in the Central Business District in 2023. She brought up Denver Police Department data to show that while crime rose dramatically in 2020, 2021 and 2022, it’s much lower now.

Even motor vehicle theft, identified by police and legislators alike as one of the city’s top problems, is down by 20 percent, according to McCann’s presentation. Despite the positive news, there are still concerns on the DA’s mind — like youth violence.

“That and fentanyl are the things that worry me, that keep me up at night,” McCann said. “The cases we're seeing from the juvenile population are much more violent than they used to be. Lots of guns, lots of assaults, lots of shootings, even murders, and it's very concerning.”

She’s encouraged by school resource officers making their return to select Denver Public Schools this year, and her office has other programs in schools designed to help get children interested in law enforcement and educate them about gun safety. Still, the DA has seen an uptick in gang membership among youths between the ages of fifteen and 25.

“Do we have a gang problem? I would say yes,” McCann said. “When I was manager of safety, it was the Bloods and the Crips, and that was pretty much it. But now we have a lot.”

In regard to the fentanyl crisis, McCann shared data showing the cases filed by her office related to the drug have “pretty much doubled every year” since 2019. They likely won’t double from 2022 to 2023, but they are trending to increase, she said. Methamphetamine is currently the second-most-abused drug in Denver, McCann added.

In 2022, Colorado law changed to impose harsher penalties on those who distribute fentanyl and added a charge of distribution resulting in death.

“Unfortunately, what we have found in trying to prosecute those cases is that most people who die of overdose have more than one drug in their system, so the coroner and medical examiner will not say definitively that fentanyl was the drug that killed the person,” McCann explained. “At this point, we haven't been able to file that charge, but we can, on occasion, file a lesser charge. That's something that we're working on.”

When asked what percentage of crime in the city is tied to drugs, McCann said that specific data is not kept, but that it is “quite a bit," and leads to crimes like theft, burglary and robbery. It is one of the most challenging issues facing the criminal justice system right now, she added.

McCann isn’t all negative, though. She said that she thinks the combination of courts working to connect people with resources for mental health and addiction, along with increased police efforts, is leading to the generally lower crime rates seen in Denver.
click to enlarge Through a giant canvas tent held up by metal polls, a view of high rises.
The residents and businesses gathered want more people to come to downtown Denver.
Kenzie Bruce
“The Denver Police Department has done a very good job of trying to focus on the higher-crime areas, so that's part of it,” she said. “The new administration — and I think the old administration was doing this as well — is trying to be more effective with the homeless population. … [Mayor Mike] Johnston is really focusing on trying to get people off the street and into some kind of effective housing where they have wraparound services.”

The district attorney says her office’s restorative justice program, which focuses on alternatives to incarceration, has a recidivism rate of 2 percent, whereas jail has a recidivism rate of 50 percent. Additionally, McCann said that people experiencing homelessness are not those who tend to commit the serious crimes that really create a negative perception. Rather, they commit lower-level offenses like trespassing or urinating in public.

“The more serious crime is being generally committed by a different population, who have been committing crime for a while or have grown up around criminal behavior,” she explained.

Audience members said they were particularly concerned about “officer-involved shootings.” One such instance occurred on Monday, November 27, when police shot an armed man in the 800 block of Oneida Street. At the November 29 meeting, McCann said that she personally goes to the scenes of as many police shootings as she can.

“I like to see what is going on," she said. "Aligning where the body is when it’s still there, where all the evidence is in relation to each other, because ultimately I have to decide if we're going to file a criminal case against a police officer."

Along with the DA’s office, there is a multi-agency investigation for each incident and a departmental administrative procedure. McCann said that numerous factors are weighed in those probes, as they might be in the case of Jordan Waddy, whom police shot at under the suspicion that he had a gun — injuring six people outside Larimer Beer Hall, just a few blocks away from Tony Tenderonis, in July 2022.

Officer Brandon Ramos was indicted on ten criminal charges for the incident, including second- and third-degree assault, negligence with a deadly weapon, prohibited use of a weapon, and reckless endangerment. A civil lawsuit filed by five people who were injured states that the odds the officer would hit the bystanders were “virtually certain.”

To help combat violence in the area and give it a better reputation, McCann encouraged residents to continue reporting crimes and to help law enforcement out by providing private security camera footage. She cited the case of Keanna Rosenburgh, a seventeen-year-old accused of shooting into a crowd and injuring five people after she was denied entry to Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, which is right across the street from Tony Tenderonis. She was on the loose for weeks after the September 16 incident, but is now in custody.

“How did we solve that? It was a camera,” McCann said. “Surveillance cameras are really, really helpful to us, because the police are not always there, someone else may not see it, and if we have to rely on eyewitness testimony, sometimes people down here are drinking and they're not as good about identifying what happened.”

Denver's DA is hopeful that with the help of residents, businesses and the mayor, crime will continue to trend downward in LoDo. Car theft, fentanyl and gangs will continue to be focuses for her office, she said, as will getting people into services for addiction and mental health treatment.

“I wish I had the magic answer," McCann concluded. "But I do think that this is a community that's committed to making it better, and I think that we are going in the right direction. ... What can you all do as a community to help with the perception? Well, number one, talk to your suburban friends. Invite them down here.”
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