Hancock Focusing Law Enforcement Efforts on Violent Crime Hot Spots

Denver wants to increase its law enforcement focus on five violent-crime hot spots.EXPAND
Denver wants to increase its law enforcement focus on five violent-crime hot spots.
Brandon Marshall
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Citing the rise of violent crime in certain parts of Denver in 2020, Mayor Michael Hancock plans to focus law enforcement on five areas of the city that it considers crime hot spots.

"Our goal here is to get at the root cause of crime in these areas and not just react to it," Hancock said during a May 24 press conference announcing the plan.

The five hot spots are in the general vicinities of Federal Boulevard and Alameda Avenue, Colfax Avenue and Broadway, Colfax Avenue and Yosemite Street, 47th Avenue and Peoria Street, and Martin Luther King Boulevard and Holly Street.

The five areas, which represent 1.56 percent of Denver's land mass (excluding Denver International Airport) accounted for 26.1 percent of the city's homicides and aggravated assaults in 2020. Additionally, 49 percent of all aggravated assault shooting victims last year were in one of the five, which are located in the city's "Inverted L" — a racially diverse area populated by people generally of lower socioeconomic status that starts in southwest Denver, moves north and then heads east to the northeast of Denver.

In 2020, homicides were up 47 percent in Denver over the previous three-year average, while aggravated assaults with firearms were up 63 percent compared to the previous three-year average.

The City of Denver already uses crime data to plot its law enforcement policies. But as city leadership stated at the press conference and repeated at the media roundtable that followed, what's new about this plan is that it involves a "collaborative approach" featuring more departments than usual in traditional law enforcement.

"We want to improve safety in these areas, safety from these violent crimes, but do this without over-policing," said Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen.

Aside from increased foot patrols in the five areas, the fire and police departments may have a barbecue with the neighborhood, or the fire department may utilize a fire station "as a community space," explained Murphy Robinson, executive director of the Department of Public Safety.

"We're taking programs that already exist, and mobilizing and activating them in ways that they’ve never been activated before," Robinson added. The Department of Economic Development and Opportunity and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure will also focus more efforts on the five hot spots.

The addition of other departments to the mix does not indicate that Hancock plans to reduce funding for Denver law enforcement, despite some requests from residents. "I will never starve our police department of the training and resources needed to combat crime," the mayor said. "We will continue to work against racism and crime."

Robinson also announced that the city is forming a Transformation and Policy Division, which will require the Denver police, sheriff and fire departments to "establish and use best practices to continuously improve operations and culture."

This new division won't have to look far for best-practice recommendations.

On May 21, a community-led task force set up in response to the DPD's heavy-handed response to the George Floyd protests published its report with 112 recommendations that could transform the City of Denver's approach to public safety. The list includes proposals to increase the penalty for in-custody deaths that happen as a result of use of force, and strengthen the power of the Office of the Independent Monitor, which serves as a law enforcement watchdog in Denver.

In a high-profile move in January, Robinson withdrew all Denver law enforcement personnel from participating in the task force because of what he perceived to be unfair exclusion from one discussion.

However, Robinson noted after the release of the report, "There is no tension between myself and anyone behind the Reimagining Policing Task Force," adding that his department is still going through the recommendations.

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