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COVID blamed for sharp decline in Denver-area arrests this year

Arrests are down 31% in Denver and 35% in Aurora despite increases in crime.

DENVER — Data from metro Denver police departments show the number of people who have been arrested in 2020 is down despite a general increase in crime across the Front Range. 

According to the latest data, arrests in Denver have declined 31% compared to the same time last year despite an increase in major crime of 18%. In Aurora, arrests are down 35%,  while major crime is up 16%. In Westminster, while homicides and arsons are up, overall crime is actually down about 18%, but arrests are down more, a 65% drop.  

Aurora Deputy Police Chief Darin Parker said the sizable decline in arrests in Aurora can be attributed largely to the pandemic — specifically, to the department’s shift to more online and phone contact and less in-person contact, a directive meant to keep officers and residents safe, and to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

"We’ve had to change the way we do business," Parker said.

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Credit: KUSA

Parker pointed to two other factors that could be at play, one being this year’s demonstrations regarding the death of Elijah McClain. McClain died on Aug. 27, 2019 – five days after he went into cardiac arrest following a confrontation with Aurora officers. He was detained after a report of a “suspicious person” in the area. McClain’s family said he had been walking to the store to get iced tea, and was wearing a ski mask because he was anemic.

The other factor, Parker said, could be Colorado Senate Bill 217, which, among other things, allows people to sue police officers for their actions on the job. The net effect, according to Parker, is a climate that appears to discourage proactive policing.  

"I know a lot of officers are concerned...as far as how they go about making contacts," said Parker. "Just regular contacts in the past don’t look the same as they used to, and that has an impact as well, I think, on the numbers."

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen offered no easy explanations for this year’s decline in arrests, insisting there has been no directive to officers to be any less proactive than they’ve been in the past, and dismissing the possibility that officers have been pulling back.  

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Credit: KUSA

Instead, Pazen called the low number of arrests simply another unusual aspect to a very unusual year.  

"I think 2020 is completely different than anything we’d be able to compare it to in my two decades in policing," Pazen said.

Asked if he thought the number of arrests will return to a more normal level once the pandemic ends, Pazen said at this point, like many things these days, it would be difficult to predict. 

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