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Hancock targets illegal guns, youth violence, cheap drugs and bond reform in latest crime plan

Mayor Michael Hancock and safety leadership detailed the latest strategies to address rising crime rates in Denver on Thursday.

DENVER — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and safety leadership announced their 2022 Crime Prevention and Reduction Action Plan on Thursday to address rising crime rates in the city.

Hancock and the city's public safety leadership detailed the latest strategies for combating crime including a coordinated, multi-agency approach to improving law enforcement outcomes and neighborhood security.

"There isn't one singular cause for what we're seeing, and thus, no one singular or easy solution," Hancock said.

Challenges the city faces as it works to reduce crime include the prevalence of illegal guns, youth violence, the availability of cheap drugs (particularly opioids, fentanyl and meth) and what Hancock called a "revolving door" of repeat offenders committing crimes after being released from custody.

"Youth violence remains prevalent with kids settling arguments with guns they shouldn't have access to," Hancock said. "We also have a system that, regardless of the best intentions, is releasing criminals back onto the street to reoffend and prey on vulnerable individuals."

> Watch the full news conference in the video below: 

Hancock said there are initiatives that began last summer that will be built upon and expanded; precision policing, youth violence prevention and the prevention and seizure of illegal guns.

The precision policing program identified five "hot spots" for crime within the jurisdiction of Denver Police Department (DPD), and according to Hancock has resulted in a "dramatic" decrease in guns and violent crimes in those areas.

Those five areas across the city were identified in July as Denver’s crime hot spots, with DPD saying at the time that they made up 26% of murders and nearly 50% of shootings.

"We're going to maintain those hotspots, we're going to hold them, so they don't slip backwards," Hancock said. "And we will expand this work to three new areas, as well as focus on our downtown core. Illegal behavior and drug activities at Union Station, which has even spilled over to the airport, are simply unacceptable, and we will not allow them to continue."

RELATED: Here's where Denver Police says are the city's crime hot spots

When speaking about preventing violence among younger people, Hancock highlighted improved regional coordination with neighbors including the City of Aurora, enhancing safety at recreation centers, investing in community-led strategies and opening the first in a network of Youth Empowerment Centers in partnership with Life-Line Colorado.

The empowerment centers will focus on "wrap-around, trauma-informed programming for youths and families," Hancock said.

Hancock said the city launched a partnership with the FBI, U.S. Attorney's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to leverage resources in large gun cases and remove illegal guns from streets. He also said the city council recently passed ordinances focusing on the removal of illegal guns and "ghost guns" from the streets.

RELATED: With eyes on Union Station, how has Denver handled other high-crime areas?

Hancock said part of his proposed budget for the upcoming year includes more resources for recruiting and hiring police officers and sheriff's deputies. He also pointed out initiatives like the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program, which sends mental health professionals to certain 911 calls instead of law enforcement, are "force multipliers."

"The more we can respond to emergencies with an unarmed social worker, the more we can free up police officers to go after the drug dealers and gun sellers, and we're going to continue to scale up these efforts."

Hancock also said he authorized sheriff's deputies to file charges in jail incidents, and is deploying two street enforcement teams to address lower-level crimes, which will free up officers for more crime prevention work.

RELATED: Denver to expand program that sends mental health professionals to 911 calls

Hancock added that while bond reform was "undoubtedly the right call" in order to address low-level offenders remaining in custody because they were unable to pay the amount of their bond, it has created a new problem of repeat offenders getting out too easily.

"Unfortunately, the reforms also opened a 'revolving-door loophole' that is allowing offenders get of jail out on [personal recognizance] bond only to reoffend," Hancock said. "Reoffend repeatedly."

He called the situation unacceptable and said the city will work with the courts, district attorney and the state to address the issue. Hancock said he is asking for legislative support from lawmakers to review bond reform and the use of personal recognizance bonds, addressing the 'revolving door' to keep repeat offenders in custody and increase services and treatment options.

Hancock was be joined by the following speakers:

  • Interim Executive Director of Safety Armando Saldate
  • Executive Director of Denver Public Health and Environment Bob McDonald
  • City Attorney Kristin Bronson
  • DPD Chief Paul Pazen 
  • Denver Sheriff Elias Diggins 
  • Denver Fire Department Chief Desmond Fulton

RELATED: RTD, city ramp up security at Union Station

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) said in December it is partnering with the federal government and a nonprofit group dedicated to crime prevention as it works to improve security around Union Station.

The City and County of Denver said it will also be addressing the problem.

According to a statement from the transit provider, the agency is taking action in response to "unwelcome activities" at the transportation hub.

RTD said it's taking advantage of strategic partnerships with the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams and the Guardian Angels.

By leveraging those partnerships and increasing transit police patrols during peak periods, RTD said, the agency will "significantly bolster" the security presence at Union Station, the bus concourse, rail platforms and transit pavilions and on 16th Street MallRide shuttles, as well as other bus routes along the Colfax corridor.

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