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Denver Police to Focus on ‘Worst of the Worst’ Gun Offenders

A special two-person team hopes to crack down on the most prolific and violent criminals. By the end of 2020, 305 people had been shot in Denver — a 51 percent increase from the year prior.

(TNS) — Denver police hope a new two-person team will help reduce gun violence by cracking down on the city's most prolific and violent offenders.

The city's police department is teaming up with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and local and federal prosecutors to focus on bringing heavy penalties — and perhaps federal charges — against people convicted of felonies who illegally carry guns, and against those who drive gun violence in Denver, officials announced Wednesday.

The move comes as the city experiences yet another violent summer and is on pace to meet or exceed the bloodshed of 2020, when Denver recorded the highest number of homicides since 1981.

In the first six months of this year, 43 people were killed in Denver homicides — a few more than the 39 people killed in Denver in the same period last year. Eighty-three people were wounded in shootings between Jan. 1 and June 12, Denver police data shows. Seventy-five people were shot and injured in the same time period last year.

By the end of 2020, 305 people had been shot — a 51 percent increase from the year prior.

"The reality is we were seeing a rise in violent crime before the pandemic and the pandemic exacerbated what we were seeing and continue to see even today," Mayor Michael Hancock said during an afternoon news conference.

The new inter-agency effort is similar to the focus Denver police have on the five geographic "hot spots" in the city — five parts of the city that make up just 2 percent of Denver's landmass but account for 26 percent of homicides and 49 percent of shootings.

"The scholars, the academics, they talk about 'hots pots' and 'hot people,' Denver police Chief Paul Pazen said Wednesday. "...This gives us an opportunity to focus on those hot people."

Pazen declined to go into detail as to how officers would identify those offenders whom he called the "worst of the worst," except to say that an offender's criminal history and background will factor heavily into that categorization.

Matt Kirsch, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Colorado, said the team will use a mix of data and police intelligence to identify the key bad actors.

"This strategy uses data from police reports, from gunshot detection technology, from the (National Integrated Ballistic Information Network)... to focus law enforcement's efforts on criminals who are most likely to be possessing and using guns. What the new effort today adds to that is data about where the most violent crimes are occurring, as well as other on-the-ground intelligence from DPD officers and the additional investigative efforts to develop those federal cases."

Pazen said the two-person team will respond to shooting scenes to assist officers with building gun cases from the beginning of an investigation, and will review cases that involve a felon in possession of a gun to see whether they should be prosecuted locally or at a federal level.

"We are not going to hesitate to vigorously pursue those charges," Kirsch said.

Pazen said Denver police have seized 1,170 guns so far in 2021 — a 26 percent increase from the three-year baseline — and have made 415 arrests of people illegally carrying guns, which is up 48 percent from the three-year baseline.

"It's no secret that violent crime is on the rise, gun-related crime is on the rise in our city," he said. "We cannot become numb to this gun violence, we cannot normalize this gun violence. The status quo is not acceptable."

As officials addressed members of the media at Denver police headquarters around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to unveil the new anti-gun violence initiative, the federal courthouse downtown was forced to lock down because of a shooting outside.

No one was hurt, but police said at least one pedestrian exchanged gunfire with a person in a vehicle. One person was arrested.

(c)2021 The Denver Post. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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