DENVER — Gun violence in Denver is on pace to exceed bloodshed not seen since 1981. To thwart this deadly trend, the Denver Police Department announced Wednesday a new partnership with federal authorities to fight against gun-related crime in the city.
Those federal agencies, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, have agreed to an “enhanced partnership” with DPD and state and local prosecutors to identify, arrest and prosecute the offenders most involved with violent crime in the city.
They are targeting felons who are in possession of weapons, who police say are also the most likely contributors to violence in Denver.
“Gun-related crime has devastating, lasting effects on our community and this strategy is a smart evolution in our approach to addressing the problem of convicted violent felons with guns,” said Chief of Denver Police Paul M. Pazen in a statement. “Today, we stand together as law enforcement partners to put convicted violent felons on notice – if you choose to illegally possess or use a firearm in Denver, we will do everything within our authority to ensure you face the greatest penalties.”
The federal-local partnership will pair Denver officers with ATF agents who specialize in illegal firearms investigations to help police and prosecutors build a case. Gun violence that occurs in one of the city’s five crime “hot spots” will be prioritized for prosecution, along with other considerations such as connections to other shootings and the likelihood of future violent activity, according to a release from DPD.
“Partnerships such as this are one of ATF’s most powerful tools to protect the public,” said ATF Denver Special Agent in Charge David Booth in a statement. “We look forward to utilizing this enhanced process to continue protecting the public and bringing violent offenders to justice.”
The program will include additional training for all Denver officers and will also feature regular communication between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Denver District Attorney’s Office.
City leaders say they plan to target five ‘hotspots’ across Denver that make up a total of 1.55% of the city area. Those small areas account for 46% of the shootings and 29% of the homicides.
“What Denver is doing right now statistically has proven to work in other larger jurisdictions. It's the smart approach,” said George Brauchler, the former district attorney for the 18th Judicial District in Colorado.
However, he says recent laws passed to ease restrictions on felons might make the job of law enforcement working on the joint task force more difficult.
“This law says if you are an arsonist, a seditionist, a drug dealer, convicted of organized crime, a business burglar, a car thief, a trespasser — any of those significant crimes — that under state law, you can legally possess a firearm,” Brauchler said. “The same legislature passed a law that said if you get into a bar fight and you punch someone in the nose and you're convicted of misdemeanor assault, you lose your ability to possess a weapon for five years. That doesn't make any sense.”
The two laws Brauchler is criticizing are a clause in Senate Bill 271 and House Hill 1298. The former, he says makes gun ownership easier for felons. The latter, however, makes gun ownership harder for people who commit misdemeanor offenses.
“It just doesn't make sense to me that at a time when we're seeing a resurgent violent crime trend, a tsunami of gun crime, that we have turned to a group of people who have demonstrated the poorest judgment in our community and said, 'We trust you to possess firearms,'” Brauchler said.
But he did say that going after illegal guns and those who possess them is a step in the right direction.
“I think Denver's super smart to start targeting felons who are in possession of weapons they shouldn't have,” Brauchler said. “That’s the right approach to take.”
Denver7 reporter Sloan Dickey contributed to this report.