Law Enforcement

Denver Police: Why We're Arresting Fewer People

Arrests in most Denver Police districts fell in 2020 despite busts related to that year's social-justice protests.
Arrests in most Denver Police districts fell in 2020 despite busts related to that year's social-justice protests. Evan Semón Photography
According to the Denver Police Department, arrest totals for every district except the one encompassing Denver International Airport have fallen, often by thousands a year, from 2018 to 2021.

For example, District 1 went from 4,754 arrests in 2018 to 2,588 in 2021, while District 6 went from 7,918 arrests in 2018 to 4,936 in 2021. Only District 7 went in the opposite direction, with 268 arrests in 2018 and 333 in 2021.

The DPD attributes the decline in arrests largely to policy changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as shifting departmental prerogatives, according to a DPD representative. For example, "to prevent the spread of COVID within the jails, officers did not make as many in-custody arrests for lower-level crimes as well as certain types of warrants."

The department rep also points to a modest decrease in Denver Police staffing, which counted 1,558 officers in 2018, 1,542 in 2019, 1,545 in 2020 and 1,525 in 2021: "Due to vacancies, officers on leave (injury/military/etc.) and recruits still in training, there are fewer officers to respond to an increasing number of calls for service, which also reduces the amount of time officers have to conduct proactive policing."

But according to the DPD, the overall drop in arrests has not compromised Denver residents' safety, and the representative offers statistics showing that arrests for certain crimes prioritized by the department have actually increased.
click to enlarge Denver's seven police districts. - DENVERGOV.ORG
Denver's seven police districts.
A case in point: The arrest total for stolen cars increased last year, when the annual report from the Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force (C-MATT) showed that auto thefts in the Denver area were higher on a per capita basis than anywhere else in the United States.

The DPD rep stresses that its "priorities remain investigating and closing homicide, shooting and other violent-crime cases, removing illegal guns from our streets and auto theft."

To illustrate its dedication to these last two focus areas, the DPD reveals that in 2021, officers recovered 2,095 illegal guns, 28.3 percent more than the previous three-year average, and arrested 46 percent more auto-theft suspects last year than the average for the prior three.
The arrest numbers are accessible on this web page, as are DPD's stats regarding use-of-force incidents. As the chart above demonstrates, despite dropping arrest numbers, the number of officer arrests in which force was used have risen over the past four years in six of seven police districts. Again, District 7 is the exception.

Figures for 2022 to date are not yet available.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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