‘An engaged community is a strong community’: Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen addresses rising crime

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“If the system was working to full capacity, we could argue 36 people could be alive in our city"

DENVER (KDVR) — Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said the city’s rising crime rate is a complex issue, but the department is trying innovative new initiatives to try to crack down.

He said the department is focused on collaborative policing and crime prevention, and that it will take all parts of the community and criminal justice system working together.

He also said it’s going to take time.

“These hot spots didn’t occur overnight, and they’re not going to be fixed overnight,” Pazen told FOX31’s Deborah Takahara in a one-on-one interview. “We want to work with our community in a collaborative approach to address violence that’s taken place in these hot spots. But more importantly, to build a process by which we can keep these hot spots safe.”

Police recently identified five hotspots where a majority of the crime in the city is happening. Now, we know there are five categories driving up crime rates: homicides, shootings, burglaries, car thefts and car break-ins.

“What is happening in our community today with violent crime and dramatic increases in property crime is not acceptable,” Pazen said.

Pandemic complicated crime

Pazen said the issue was complicated by jails reducing capacity during the pandemic. He said the entire criminal justice system must work together to keep violent felons off the streets.

According to Pazen:

  • 59% of homicide suspects in 2020 were previous felons
  • 25 of the homicide suspects last year were on some sort of probation or parole or pretrial
  • Of the identified homicide suspects this year, at least 11 were on pretrial, probation, parole

“In the last 18 months, if the system was working to full capacity, we could argue 36 people could be alive in our city. That’s the challenge we all have to step up to the plate — all aspects of the criminal justice system,” Pazen said.

Police are working with community and nonprofit groups to tackle the growing crime. Pazen points to the recent community cleanup in southwest Denver near Federal Boulevard and Alameda Avenue as a success.

“I hope we can continue to work with police to make this area more inviting for shoppers — make it seem like an area they can shop and dine and feel safe to be,” said Mimi Luong, who has a gift shop in the Far East Center.

Police seek community partnerships

Pazen praised that community for its partnership and the volunteers that continue to take part in the community cleanup.

“When we are talking about safety, it’s important to note an engaged community is a strong community. And a strong community is a safe community,” Pazen said, asking people to get involved in their own neighborhoods.

“Many of the best programs we have in the police department are done in collaboration with our community — working with nonprofits, faith-based leaders, people who want to get involved — sharing ideas on how we can tackle this together,” Pazen said.

Pazen said officers have taken more than 1,000 illegal guns off the streets so far this year. That’s about 200 more than previous years. But he said the criminal justice system needs to hold violators accountable.

“We need more accountability when our officers arrest individuals who are prohibited from possessing firearms, that they are held accountable through the court system and help us keep the shooting from happening in the first place,” Pazen said.

He said all aspects of the criminal justice system — judges, pretrial services, probation and parole, community re-entry — should work together to help prevent the violence and property crime negatively impacting Denverites.

Pazen said more information on the department’s crime-reduction initiative will be revealed in the coming weeks.

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