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Denver mayor wants to reduce violent gun crime by 20% this year, but some in city council are raising concerns

His plan was called into question by a council member who is concerned about over-policing communities of color
Denver Mayor Mike johnston_clean and safe downtown denver
Posted at 5:29 PM, Apr 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-02 20:24:40-04

DENVER — Mayor Mike Johnston has several big goals he wants the city to accomplish this year, including reducing violent gun crime. But some are concerned his strategy to reduce violent gun crime could lead to other problems, such as over-policing in communities of color.

Last month, Johnston announced his goal of reducing gun violence by 20% as part of his Safe Denver plan.

“We're making this a clear citywide priority,” Johnston said. “What we're doing is really focusing on areas that are real hot spots, places where we have the highest instance of gun crime right now with a proactive prevention-based strategy for how we can approach what those neighborhoods need.”

Mayor Mike Johnston says he wants to reduce violent gun crime by 20% this year

Johnston said that will look different in each neighborhood.

“Sometimes there are two vacant lots or a closed business that needs to be reactivated. Sometimes there aren't enough streetlights. Sometimes you need to slow traffic and sometimes you need more police presence,” Johnston said.

The strategy the mayor wants to use isn’t new.

The technical name for it is Place Network Investigations (PNI) and it’s been used by cities across the country to reduce violence and other crimes.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police said the strategy “is grounded in evidence that suggests persistent crime patterns and violent hotspots are visible indicators of underlying crime place networks.”

The strategy was also part of a pilot project Denver tested at three hot spots from 2020 to 2022. Johnston said it stabilized or reduced crime in those areas.

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Data from Johnston’s office shows that while the monthly violent crime rate increased 27% citywide, it only increased by 12% at a hot spot in Council District 2 and increased by 14% at another site in Council District 5. Moreover, Johnston said violent crime fell by 27% at a hotspot site in Council District 4.

Following this success, the mayor wants to expand the strategy, and announced these are the five hot spots the city would focus on in 2024:

  • Paco Sanchez Park (Council District 3)
  • E. Colfax and N. Verbena (Council District 8)
  • 800 Block of S. Oneida (Council District 5)
  • Mississippi and Raritan (Council District 7)
  • 47th and Peoria (Council District 8)

“You can prevent a lot of crime by thinking about how you design and support the ecosystem of that neighborhood. And that's what we're focusing on right now,” Johnston said.
Some city council members support the plan.

“I am a huge believer in PNI,” said Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who represents District 5, which included the hotspot at E. Colfax and N. Verbena before redistricting. “We did some amazing work there. I think the challenge is in the funding.”

But District 11 Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore pushed back against the mayor’s plan Tuesday.

“What we're saying about doing here — and I'm not saying this, you are saying it — is over-policing a community of color,” Gilmore said to the mayor.

Gilmore said she’s concerned about the crime data the mayor is relying on to determine where these hot spots are located.

“What I'm being told by DPD is the data doesn't match,” said Gilmore. “This seems [like] a lot of fear-based sort of work instead of really digging into the data.”

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She also took issue with the mayor using the term ‘ecosystem’ during his presentation when talking about neighborhoods.

“Don't talk about our neighborhood like that,” said Gilmore.

The mayor said the he didn't talk about it in any disparaging way.

“I said what we want to do is provide resources and systems," he replied.

Johnston reiterated several times that police are not the only part of his strategy.

“We see this as a very different response than what other cities have done, which is just target officers to a region. We think police are not the only solution and they can't be the whole solution. It really is about, what does a neighborhood need?" said Johnston.

Johnston said the first step is getting feedback from people who live in the areas he wants to focus on.

He hopes everything will be ready to go by the start of summer.

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