Denver puts community outreach at forefront of gang violence prevention

·2 min read

Midway through 2020, Denver's deadliest year in nearly four decades, police chief Paul Pazen shifted his approach to put a stronger emphasis on community outreach.

  • He hired case coordinators for all six districts and the special operations team that handles gang violence.

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How it works: The outreach workers are aimed at interacting with young people exposed to trauma, a leading indicator of potential criminal gang involvement.

  • They provide support, whether securing jobs and housing, fixing cars, or connections to public services.

  • The goal of the special operations team outreach "is to help support young people and point them to alternatives," Pazen said.

Why it matters: Pazen is feeling the pinch as Denver's violent crime spikes over three-year averages and activists demand a new approach to policing.

  • Last year, Denver police recorded 95 homicides, the highest number since 1981, and a significant increase in shootings.

  • Officials say those numbers are continuing to increase in 2021.

Context: The police department's new approach is part of a citywide retooling when it comes to addressing public safety. Murphy Robinson, the mayor's public safety director, is looking to transform the culture of gang violence prevention.

  • The other week he introduced GRID 2.0 — a rebranding of the troubled Gang Reduction Initiative of Denver.

  • There’s now a stronger focus on working with the police department to identify vulnerable youth and point them to community programs.

What to watch: The chief said it's too soon to know if his approach is working, even if the crime statistics are worsening. He said the department will do a deeper analysis at the one-year mark.

Of note: A new investigative book, "The Holly," provides evidence that the police department's approach to gang reduction has only furthered distrust and violence in the community. Pazen dismissed the suggestion.

  • He downplayed the agency's use of paid informants, saying "it's not an area we put time and effort into."

  • Pazen also said Denver police have not put any Black Lives Matter protesters under surveillance, as some worried.

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