AURORA, Colo. — Aurora city leaders and activists are calling for an end to the rise in youth violence after six teenagers were shot at a park on Monday.
Aurora police are still investigating the shooting and asking the public for help in tracking down the suspects who opened fire on the teens at Nome Park. All six teenagers are expected to survive.
Mayor Mike Coffman called the shooting alarming in an interview Wednesday and said finding out exactly what happened and why will help the city determine how to move forward in curbing the violence.
“I think a lot of it is gang related. I think a lot of it is there’s a natural escalation,” Coffman said. “They tend to escalate and then you create culture within those gangs, and so it’s challenging to intervene in that, but we’re working on it.”
Coffman believes part of the solution is making sure the police department has the resources it needs and is fully staffed.
He told Denver7 some of APD’s specialty units have been paired down recently due to staffing challenges and the officers have been moved to patrols. He wants to see those specialty units, particularly the gang intervention unit, fully staffed once again.
“There has to be a law enforcement approach to those who pull a trigger,” Coffman said.
The city is also looking to increase its youth violence prevention program and after school programs.
However, Coffman insists youth violence is not just an Aurora problem but a regional issue, and he says he has reached out to the governor’s office to see whether there is a multi-jurisdictional task force that could work on this.
“The fact is these young people have access to firearms. We need to find out how they’re getting access to firearms,” Coffman said.
Local activists, meanwhile, say there needs to be more community outreach and talking to the teenagers.
Alvertis Simmons hosted a get together at Nome Park Wednesday to try to encourage teenagers in the area to come talk to one another.
“This isn’t just a police issue. This is a community issue, and so that’s why I’m here as a civil rights activist to say 'hey, we’ve got to do something,'” Simmons said.
He calls the rise in teen violence in the area a health crisis and says that in order for Aurora police to get cooperation from the public, first they have to rebuild trust.
“They’ve got a build a relationship with these black and brown kids, and these kids that are doing the shootings,” Simmons said.
Christina Amparen, the community manager for the Aurora Youth Violence Prevention Program, agrees that it will take a broader community effort to curb the violence.
“We know that the traditional response to addressing violent behavior hasn’t worked. We know that traditionally it’s only been the law enforcement response,” Amparen said. “If we want to have a larger impact we need to have a response that’s multifaceted.”
Since Monday’s shooting, her group has helped community-based organizations go into seven of the schools surrounding the park to talk about what happened and to identify ways to support the staff and students.
The group also helped organize a Safe Haven even at the Salvation Army to encourage families to come talk.
In order to reduce the violence, Amparen says Aurora needs to focus its resources on the communities that are most impacted or that have the most consistent violence.
A rally is being planned for Friday to bring the community together to call for an end to the shootings. For now, community leaders say something has to change because teen violence cannot become the new normal for Aurora.