DENVER — In late 2019, the Denver Police Department (DPD) began exploring a new idea to reduce gun violence in the city. Now a dedicated unit is changing the way the department investigates nonfatal shootings.
The idea was to create a unit within the Major Crimes Division dedicated specifically to solving the city's nonfatal shootings. Before, Lt. Matt Clark with DPD's Major Crimes Division said most nonfatal shooting cases were handed over to district offices where caseloads were already pretty high with other investigations such as property crime.
"We weren't closing cases at the level we expected we could," said Lt. Clark.
Lt. Clark explained the department was solving between 25 to 30 percent of nonfatal shootings at any given time. In one year, the Firearm Assault Shoot Team, or FAST team, cleared 67 percent of their cases. The unit made up of seven investigators got to work starting in February 2020.
By placing specific resources towards investigating these incidents, Lt. Clark said it is allowing the department to identify more offenders. The FAST team is investigating these cases as if they were homicides.
"There are calls and demands for police agencies to be responsive to address these violent crime issues, to make sure people feel safe in their communities," he said.
Within its first year, the FAST team handled 165 cases with 212 victims. Nearly half of those victims were under the age of 25.
Jonathan McMillan is the Youth Violence Prevention Coordinator for the City and County of Denver. He began his job a few months ago to help create safer spaces and opportunities for young people.
About a year and 1/2 ago, the city established the Youth Violence Prevention Action Table to develop a comprehensive plan to address youth violence in the city and the region. The Action Table includes city leaders and members of a Youth Advisory Council. McMillan will help implement this plan.
The plan's initiatives include grants to community-based organizations that work with youth, a partnership with the City of Aurora to work on regional violence prevention and the establishment of a youth empowerment center at 1240 W. Bayaud Ave. to provide resources and support to youth and families.
"If young people feel as though they are not safe in their community because of the fear or threat of gun violence, the most obvious solution is to arm themselves," McMillan said.
DPD hopes closing more cases can reduce violence in the city and potentially save lives.
"If we don't stop these offenders, they will continue to offend," said Lt. Clark. "They will continue to use guns against others in the community and it may eventually result in a homicide."
DPD said it is working with other law enforcement agencies in Texas and Connecticut that are interested in trying to model how Denver is now investigating nonfatal shootings.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Local stories from 9NEWS