DENVER — While Denver is seeing positive progress in the city's fight against the coronavirus, youth violence remains an ongoing challenge, Denver officials explained during a press conference on Monday.
Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen and others were quick to acknowledge the calls to defund or abolish the Denver Police Department, something that Denver Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca called for last week. This proposal was added to Monday’s council agenda for discussion, but Denver City Council killed it.
Pazen said these actions would have a devastating impact on the city.
“People likely will not choose to live, work and play in a community they don’t feel safe in," he said.
That means fewer opportunities and jobs and a smaller tax base to provide essential services to communities, he said.
Hancock said he's had many conversations with people who want to abolish the police department, and has worked with them to find the root of what they're really asking for — a separation of human resources and crime-fighting.
He listed off multiple ways the police department has already made changes to better itself, including required body cameras for all officers and SWAT members during tactical operations, as well as sheriff's deputies as of this year, mandatory bias training for officers, the elimination of some jail fees, banning the choke and strangle holds, increasing the authority of the Office of the Independent Monitor, mandatory deescalation tactics, and more.
He vowed to keep the Denver Police Department running as long as he's in office.
“As long as I’m mayor, we will not abolish the Denver Police Department," he said. "So long as I’m mayor, we will not erode the capacity of our law enforcement and first responders to keep our communities, neighborhood, schools and homes in Denver safe.”
Pazen said the police department has room to improve, but it has progressed much more than other departments across the country.
“We are not done," Hancock said. "We’ve recognized, we’ve done a lot, but we also acknowledge the fact that we are not done and we have much work to do. But it does not call for the abolishment of our police department.”
He urged residents to not confuse Denver with the actions of other cities.
Rate of positive coronavirus cases in Denver remains low
As the the number of positive cases of the novel coronavirus trends in the right direction, Hancock said the city is starting to transition to community-based testing sites to take some weight off the Pepsi Center, which has offered free COVID-19 testing since early June.
The city will focus on under-served communities as they build out the new testing sites plan, said Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment.
“Over the last few weeks, we've cut the average number of new daily cases in half," he said. "We're now seeing an average of fewer than 40 new cases a day.”
In addition, McDonald said the rate of tests that come back positive is about 3%. He added that the capacity in hospitals remains strong.
While these numbers are promising, Hancock said it's not the time to ease up.
"We are not out of the woods yet," he said.
McDonald noted that there are still weekends where Denver's Department of Safety issues summons to businesses or individuals who are out of compliance.
Police outline solutions to ongoing youth violence problem
Youth violence is a public health emergency in Denver, Pazen said, and it's up to the community as a whole — not only police, but parents, friends and neighbors — to stop the rising tide.
“Denver is not alone in this experience that’s happening in cities all across the nation, and we should not be surprised that with rising unemployment and despair, there is an increase in crime,” Hancock said.
Low-level disputes are turning into high levels of violence in Denver, Pazen said. And many of those involved are young people who, like the rest of the city's residents, are shut inside without much to do, and so they turn to social media, where many arguments begin, Pazen said.
That, paired with irresponsible gun owners not properly storing their guns, has fanned the fire of youth violence, he said.
Pazen said his officers have taken 1,000 illegal guns off the streets. He added that the department saw a 25% increase in stolen guns recently.
Due to COVID-19, police are limited in their abilities to directly reach out to and intervene before violence breaks out — something that has proven effective in the past, Pazen said.
Both Pazen and Hancock acknowledged that Federal Boulevard is a popular place for gatherings, and historically, they have been peaceful. But after recent violence — including two fatal shootings along the road late Sunday evening, at least one of which involved rival groups — Hancock said it may be better for young people to stay home until police can find those initiating the terror in the community.