Jun 8, 2021 - News
Denver puts community outreach at forefront of gang violence prevention
A photo of Denver police chief Paul Pazen
Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

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.

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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