Violent Crime in Denver Was Rising Before Bloody 2020

There have been concerns aplenty about the recent spate of killings in Denver amid the ongoing pandemic, epitomized by eight homicides in eight days early last month. But newly public information from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation shows that such offenses were on the rise even before 2020 — and solving them was, at best, barely a 50-50 proposition.

On August 5, the CBI released 2019 data from hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the state, including the Denver Police Department. The stats for the Mile High City are revelatory, and often not in a good way.

According to the CBI, 5,977 violent crimes — including murder, non-consensual sex offenses, aggravated assault and robbery — took place in Denver last year, as compared to 5,811 in 2018 and 5,352 in 2017. That's more than a 10 percent jump in two years.

The increases can be seen in two of the individual categories: murder and aggravated assault. However, non-consensual sex offenses are down by just over 5 percent since 2017, with robberies seeing a smaller dip. Here are the numbers:
2019: 67
2018: 65
2017: 56

Sex offenses, non-consensual
2019: 1,188
2018: 1,216
2017: 1,253

Aggravated assault
2019: 3,515
2018: 3,312
2017: 2,807

2019: 1,207
2018: 1,218
2017: 1,236
Another important stat involves so-called clearances, which CBI communications director Susan Medina describes with this: "'Cleared,' in most cases, means one or more arrests were made. However, there are exceptions where an incident has reached a conclusion from the law enforcement perspective. An incident is also cleared if the offender is found but not arrested. These are called 'exceptional clearances.' Exceptional clearance occurs when the offender is a juvenile released to the parents, or if the offender is found to be deceased or if the offender is found to be in the custody of another jurisdiction. Also, an exceptional clearance may occur if the case cannot proceed by either prosecution declining the case or the victim refusing to cooperate. Then the incident is counted as cleared."

But in all cases, according to Medina, "'cleared' means law enforcement has found the perpetrator of the crimes which occurred in the reported incident."

In other words, a clearance doesn't mean someone has been prosecuted and found guilty of committing an illegal act. But even judged by this lower standard, over about half the violent crimes in Denver are cleared — a rate of 53 percent in 2019, a decline from the 55 percent in both 2017 and 2018.

The percentage of murders cleared is higher (73 percent in 2019, up from 71 percent in 2018 and 68 percent in 2017), while the cleared rate has mostly held steady for aggravated assaults (61 percent in 2019, 62 percent in 2018, 61 percent in 2017).

In contrast, clearances in non-consensual sex offenses have fallen precipitously — just 46 percent in 2019, as opposed to 52 percent in 2018 and 58 percent in 2017. And the odds of anyone being brought to justice for robbery have been lousy for years: The clearance rate in 2019 was a mere 36 percent, a slide from the 37 percent in 2018 and 38 percent in 2017.

Victims of violent crime in Denver are most likely to be between the ages of 25 and 34, as seen in this breakdown:
Under 10 — 265
10-17 — 766
18-24 — 1,088
25-34 — 1,669
35-44 — 1,048
45-54 — 710
55-64 — 374
65 and over — 179
Other categories tracked by the CBI include hate crimes; 102 of them took place in Denver during 2019, and only 45 percent were cleared. Here's how those crimes break down:
Race/Ethnicity/Ancestry Bias — 60
Religious Bias — 16
Sexual Orientation Bias — 28
Disability Bias — 2
Gender Identity Bias — 3
A separate category follows DUIs — and this time, the 25-34 demographic is the likeliest to be busted for a violation, as evidenced by these arrestee numbers:
Under 18 — 8
18-24 — 237
25-34 — 589
35-44 — 247
45-54 — 133
55-64 — 66
65 and over — 13
As for property crimes, the odds of getting away with them in Denver in 2019 were excellent, unfortunately. Check out these clearance rates: 14 percent for larceny (theft), 16 percent for burglary, 20 percent for fraud, and 11 percent for motor vehicle theft. For 80 percent or more of these offenders, crime paid.

For more information about Denver and other jurisdictions throughout the state, visit the CBI's Colorado Crime Statistics website.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts