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| Crime |

How Easy It Is to Get Away With Car Theft and More in Denver

Denver car thieves didn't have much to worry about in 2020.
Denver car thieves didn't have much to worry about in 2020.
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Stealing a car in Denver last year wasn't entirely risk-free, but the odds of getting away with it were way better than the chances of being arrested. Fewer than one in ten car thefts were solved.

These conclusions are supported by statistics from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which this month released 2020 data from hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the state, including the Denver Police Department.

The gusher of information from the invaluable Colorado Crime Statistics website arrived ahead of schedule — it's only been seven months since the CBI's August report on 2019 crime — and the figures pertaining to violent crime in the Mile High City are particularly disturbing. Overall infractions in Denver, including murder, non-consensual sex offenses and aggravated assault, jumped 12 percent in twelve months and in excess of 23 percent over three years.

Property crimes, which encompass robbery, larceny, burglary and motor-vehicle theft, saw similar spikes in most instances, and the number of cases in which the scofflaws were punished ranged from modest to tiny.

The key 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, just over half the violent crimes in Denver have been cleared in recent years.

While this performance may seem mediocre, compared to property-crime clearances, it's an absolute triumph. The high-water mark for property-crime clearances in 2020 was the robbery category, which hit 31 percent; the nadir was the 8 percent clearance mark for larceny, with car theft just a bit higher, at 9 percent. Moreover, comparisons of last year's stats to those from the previous three years show that in the majority of cases, more property crimes were committed and fewer were cleared.

Here's the evidence:

ROBBERY

2020
Cases: 1,223
Clearance: 31 percent

2019
Cases: 1,207
Clearance: 36 percent

2018
Cases: 1,218
Clearance: 37 percent

2017
Cases: 1,236
Clearance: 38 percent

LARCENY

2020
Cases: 20,827
Clearance: 8 percent

2019
Cases: 18,189
Clearance: 15 percent

2018
Cases: 17,589
Clearance: 14 percent

2017
Cases: 16,265
Clearance: 17 percent

BURGLARY

2020
Cases: 5,209
Clearance: 14 percent

2019
Cases: 3,946
Clearance: 17 percent

2018
Cases: 4,014
Clearance: 16 percent

2017
Cases: 4,342
Clearance: 16 percent

FRAUD

2020
Cases: 2,495
Clearance: 10 percent

2019
Cases: 1,573
Clearance: 20 percent

2018
Cases: 1,417
Clearance: 25 percent

2017
Cases: 1,191
Clearance: 28 percent

MOTOR VEHICLE THEFT

2020
Cases: 8,453
Clearance: 9 percent

2019
Cases: 5,347
Clearance: 12 percent

2018
Cases: 5,378
Clearance: 13 percent

2017
Cases: 5,605
Clearance: 12 percent

Of course, most of 2020 was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which idled thousands of Denver residents, caused massive economic distress and made law enforcement that much more difficult. But the trends over the previous three years show that clearance rates for property crimes were generally declining long before the novel coronavirus struck.

The prospects of Denver thieves winding up in handcuffs have been slight for quite a while. In 2020, they shrank even further.

For more information about Denver and other jurisdictions throughout the state, visit the CBI's Colorado Crime Statistics website.

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