Aurora police chief pleads for lawmakers to 'get serious' about juvenile crime after violent weekend

Nonprofit organization works to combat root causes of youth violence
Aurora Interim Police Chief Art Acevedo
Posted at 12:37 PM, Mar 26, 2023

AURORA, Colo. — Walking up to the microphone, Aurora Interim Police Chief Art Acevedo appeared weary as he prepared to brief the media on yet another outbreak of violence at the hands of young people in the city.

Using Saturday night’s deadly shooting outside Town Center at Aurora mall as a backdrop, the outspoken chief went off script, putting the scourge of youth violence in the spotlight.

The shooting in the parking lot of the Aurora mall left a 13-year-old boy dead and began as an altercation in the food court involving a group of teens, according to police. No arrests had been made.

But the interim chief said what happened behind him was just a small piece of a much larger issue. Out-of-control juvenile crime, he said, is not getting the attention it needs from the judicial system and the state legislature. Acevedo said it's taking up police resources and putting the community in danger when juvenile offenders are not taken seriously by the system.

"The fact that we’re chasing these young people, we’re arresting these young people, and they go in one door and out the other, this is what happens. People get hurt and get killed," he said. [Police are] doing our jobs, but it’s time for the courts and the legislature to get serious about juvenile violence."

Teen dead in shooting outside Town Center at Aurora mall

During the briefing, he brought up previous incidents involving teens that same day, stating that his officers took four juveniles into custody earlier Saturday related to a "crime spree" that included at least one carjacking. He also brought up an incident in December where officers were shot at by a juvenile offender.

According to FBI crime statistics, in 2021 (the latest year available), the Aurora Police Department reported there were 708 victims of violent crime who were between the ages of 10-19, the third-highest age group that year.

At the same time, there were 693 juvenile offenders contacted, arrested or accused of a violent crime by the department in 2021, the fourth most offending age group. Violent crime has steadily gone up among all age groups in the city beginning in 2014, according to the data.

The Struggle of Love Foundation is a nonprofit organization that has been working to battle youth violence for more than two decades, providing juveniles with different outlets and alternatives to negativity.

“They have to rebuild social and emotional skills, they don't know how to deal with their emotions. Even us adults still don't. We have to show them by action, that we're changing and we're transforming our power from negative to positive," said Joel Hodge, the co-founder and program director for Struggle of Love. “We'll go walk hand in hand and make this change.”

Hodge said he understands the complexities of youth violence after living through it. He said he joined a gang at the age of 10.

Aurora chief pleads for lawmakers to 'get serious' about juvenile crime

“The streets, I thought, loved me," said Hodge, who said he stayed in the gang until he was almost 30. “All this time I'm looking for love.”

Finding that love in a healthy manner instead of one that leads to violence is often difficult, but it is what Hodge and the rest of the foundation strive to teach juveniles.

“What it boils down to is we still all have a choice," Hodge said. “We have got to find different alternatives to this gun violence.”

Programs to curb youth violence in Aurora have been a topic of discussion for city leaders and the former Miami police chief in the past year.

In 2022, the City of Aurora set aside $500,000 and opened grant applications for community organizations that provide youth violence prevention programs. Nearly 20 organizations are slated to receive funding from the city to help reduce youth violence.

But that apparently isn't enough. Acevedo called for legislative action and the court system to hand down stiffer penalties as the city and his department grappled with the wave of youth violence.

“It’s time for the courts, the legislature to get serious about juvenile violence,” he said. “I want you to wait until someone important has a loved one shot or killed. Is that what they’re waiting for?”

Aurora is not alone. Other cities in the Denver metro area are seeing an uptick in youth violence. Recent incidents include the double shooting at East High School in Denver and a fatal shooting in Longmont.

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