May 17, 2021 - News
Denver's anti-gang program looks for fresh start amid rising violence
Denver police officer Adriel Torres high-fives students in an anti gang program in 2016.
Denver police officer Adriel Torres high-fives students in an anti-gang program in 2016. Photo: Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post

Denver is re-evaluating its $1 million anti-gang initiative amid rising violence and questions about its approach.

Driving the news: The Gang Reduction Initiative of Denver (GRID) is rebranding to clarify its role and seeking new community partners for its prevention efforts, said Nicole Monroe, the program's director.

  • GRID issued three requests for proposals — which closed May 5 — to find city nonprofits that can operate in the community to reduce shootings, mediate conflicts and work with hundreds of youth who are most likely to join gangs.
  • The top objective for all of three is to reduce the level of gang violence.
  • One proposal creates a pilot intervention effort specifically aimed at girls and women aged 12 to 24 at high risk of becoming involved in gangs.

The backdrop: A newly published book, "The Holly," from investigative journalist Julian Rubinstein, revealed significant problems with the city's intervention program and policing that only furthered tension in the Five Points and Northeast Park Hill neighborhoods.

  • The city's violence prevention grants went to organizations that employed active gang members, Rubinstein found.

The big picture: A change in leadership is driving the shift at the 11-year-old program, which is housed in the city's public safety department. Monroe, who took the helm in September after the former director departed, saw a need for a restart.

  • "There was an opportunity for us to revisit existing partners, connecting with those who might have left ... and getting away from any past drama and refocusing on what the true issue is," she told Axios.

The intrigue: The latest grant applications make clear that any person who "promotes, furthers or assists" in any gang criminal conduct cannot work as a violence prevention coordinator.

  • In evaluating the new grant applicants, Monroe said she will "take their past into consideration" but the program also believes "that people can change."
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