Mar 4, 2021 - News

A controversial theory about Denver's rising crime

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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