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Expand chart
Data: City and County of Denver; Reproduced from David Pyrooz; Chart: Axios Visuals

A research team believes de-policing is a key factor driving Denver's violent crime surge. The term describes a pullback from active policing, often in response to public scrutiny.

Why it matters: The controversial claim comes as police in Denver and across the country continue to face sharp public criticism over excessive force and brutality against people of color, with local policymakers actively working to divest from police forces or abolish them altogether.

By the numbers: The city saw the highest number of homicides in nearly four decades, an increase that exceeded the rate in 34 large cities, according to the researchers' piece in the Denver Post.

  • Even before COVID-19 hit, violent crime was on the rise and Denver police made about 280 fewer stops a week compared with past years.
  • A sharp drop in police stops coincided with the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, even as crime rates increased.

What they're saying: The study's authors argue that "proactive" policing lowers crime and that depleted trust in police also drove the crime spike.

  • "We are not advocating for stop-question-frisk, much less stops for the sake of stops," said David Pyrooz, one of the authors and an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder. He said communities must help in "defining the problem to which police respond proactively."

The other side: Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen told Alayna that "there's a lot that I agree with ... but nowhere in this article do they talk about the resources themselves."

  • Pazen said Denver police are relying on data to pinpoint "persistently violent hotspot locations" and zero in on areas with the highest crime.
  • A pandemic-battered budget forced Denver to hire 97 fewer officers than expected in 2020. Another 78 officers recently retired or left.
  • Denver's police and sheriff budgets still totaled roughly $378 million, or about 28% of the city's 2021 budget, Denverite reported.

What's next: Denver City Council remains "very interested" in shrinking the scope of the police department and investing in alternative response systems, including the STAR program.

  • Council President Stacie Gilmore tells us it will be an "important topic of focus" in the next budget debate.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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Go deeper

Updated Mar 4, 2021 - Politics & Policy

House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

Photo: Stephen Maturen via Getty Images

The House voted 220 to 212 on Wednesday evening to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, the Black man whose death in Minneapolis last year led to nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Why it matters: The legislation overhauls qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds at the federal level, prohibits no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and outlaws racial profiling.

John Frank, author of Denver
Mar 3, 2021 - Axios Denver

How downtown Denver will recover from the pandemic

Runners particpate in a race in downtown Denver in 2018. Photo: Donald Miralle/Getty Images

The downtown of Denver, Colorado remains mostly empty amid the pandemic and the plywood remnants of civil unrest are still visible on a handful of state government buildings.

Why it matters: Denver's recovery will require downtown to return to normal — and thrive with a bustling convention center and busy sidewalks on the 16th Street Mall.

Police officers' immunity from lawsuits is getting a fresh look

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly a year after the death of George Floyd, advocates of changes in police practices are launching new moves to limit or eliminate legal liability protections for officers accused of excessive force.

Why it matters: Revising or eliminating qualified immunity — the shield police officers have now — could force officers accused of excessive force to personally face civil penalties in addition to their departments. But such a change could intensify a nationwide police officer shortage, critics say.