Sounding at times like a statistician, Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said nearly half of all shootings in Denver and a quarter of the city's murders in 2020 and 2021 took place in just five geographical areas: "hotspots" that only make up 1.56% of Denver's land mass.
"Crime," said Pazen, "often disproportionally affects a small geographical area."
In a recent interview with CBS4, Pazen laid out how his department is addressing gun violence hotspots- also known as crime clusters- and how hotspots have now shifted to other areas of the city.
"People are dying in our streets," said Pazen, "And it's not okay."
With crime and gun violence rates rising, Pazen explained how his department is seeking solutions.
In 2020 and 2021, he said the vast majority of gun violence and homicides occurred in five specific areas:
-Colfax and Broadway
-47th and Peoria
-Martin Luther King Blvd and Holly
-Colfax and Yosemite
-Alameda and Federal
Twenty-six percent of Denver homicides and 49% of the cities shootings occurred in those areas, according to Pazen.
That led DPD and other city agencies to focus their energy on those hotspots. Pazen said DPD has put increased resources into those locations and partners with businesses and organizations in the areas to help interrupt violence before it happens.
At Alameda and Federal, Mimi Luong, whose family founded the Far East Center, has been a key business owner helping trying to stem the violence in her area.
She showed CBS4 how volunteers have pulled together to clean up back alleys and surrounding neighborhoods, and how she applied for and received, grant money to improve lighting and security cameras at the commercial center.
"I don't like that it's called a hotspot," said Luong. "This area is very safe."
She said she believes community efforts have paid off and have cooled down this hotspot.
"We're working on it. I just feel like this area, this shopping plaza, is my family and I want it to be continued on."
Indeed, Pazen said Luong's efforts in southwest Denver have paid off.
He said there has been a 73% reduction in gun violence around Alameda and Federal. Same at MLK and Holly where Pazen said there had been a 100% reduction in gun violence and a 74% reduction at 47th and Peoria.
Four of the five hotspots showed reductions in gun violence in 2021.
"We're having success in several of the different hotspots," observed Pazen.
But consequently, the shootings have shifted to other areas.
"We have dramatic increases in other areas of the city," acknowledged Pazen.
He said emerging gun violence hotspots are now:
-Dartmouth and Havana
-Mississippi and Raritan
-14th and Federal
He said police can't abandon efforts at the original hotspots but now have to broaden their focus to the new hotspots.
Pazen said much of his department's strategy to counter gun violence mirrors what was advocated in the 2019 book "Bleeding Out" by Thomas Abt. The author, a former Justice Department official and longtime crime researcher pushes for evidence-informed approaches to curb gun violence.
Pazen said he is familiar with the book and his department has instituted many of the approaches suggested by Abt.
But Pazen says, "The deck is stacked in many ways."
Most notably, he said the justice system is still not holding violent offenders accountable. He said too many repeat gun offenders are being re-arrested but only ending up with "a slap on the wrist. I think that's one of the contributing factors to the increase in violence we are seeing," said Pazen. "You have to hold folks accountable if they're committing these high-level crimes."
He said too often repeat offenders are being allowed out of jail on personal recognizance or low bonds.
"If you want to address shootings, then you have to deal with shooters," said Pazen. "We have individuals we have arrested three or four times getting low and PR bonds. This is a challenge we are facing with a lack of consequences and accountability for those creating the most harm in our community. People," said Pazen, "will not live, work or play in a community that they don't feel safe in."
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