AURORA, Colo. — When Aurora voters did away with the city's red-light cameras, it eliminated funding for Aurora's Gang Prevention Program (AGRIP), and community leaders said that decision is playing a direct role in the recent uptick in youth violence.
"If there's a gang problem and kids are dying a city's responsibility is to find the funds to help community organizations stop that," said Jason McBride with the Gang Rescue and Support Project (GRASP).
GRASP is an early gang intervention program that is used in Denver to keep kids out of gangs. GRASP had been helping kids in Aurora, through AGRIP, up until last year when the funding for the program went away.
"He was doing a great job, but we lost funding, and it's showing right now," McBride said.
AGRIP was funded by Aurora's photo red light camera program, which brought in nearly half a million dollars a year, but when voters did away with the photo red light back in 2018, funding for AGRIP and similar community gang prevention programs went away with it.
"We really need to do a deep dive, specifically to this problem because we've had 11 homicides since Dec. 1," new Aurora city councilman Curtis Gardner said.
Gardner said he wants to find a way to restore the funding for Aurora's gang prevention programs, which helped hundreds of kids in schools across the state before the city eliminated them.
"It needs to be made a priority," he said.
Gardner also said he believes it's time for the city to own its gang problem and do something about it.
"I think the days of pretending like it doesn't exist are over, and we need to acknowledge that because once we acknowledge it, then we can make a concerted effort to get the resources we need to address the problem," said Gardner.
"I don't know who's afraid to say we have a gang problem," said Aurora Police's new division chief Terry Brown.
Brown said there has been an uptick in youth violence and specifically shootings and does see the need for gang prevention programs in Aurora.
"Are we seeing problems because that went away? Possibly," he said. "Do we need some programs to try and steer young kids in the right direction? Absolutely we do. Is it AGRIP, is it GRASP, is it something else? Those are the conversations we're having right now."
Aurora city council is now considering a one percent marijuana sales tax increase to restore funding for these programs and others that were funded through revenue from photo red light.
"The funding has to come from somewhere, these programs aren't free. And part of it goes to, what are our kids worth?" said Brown.
"We were relaxed and lazy and our inaction has caused kids to get killed," said McBride.
It's unclear who made the decision not to fund Aurora's gang prevention programs using other revenue, but the city recently elected a new mayor and has a new interim police chief so many of the people who were involved in the decision or were there when it happened are no longer there to answer those questions.
"I don't know why the funding went away other than to say it's a matter of resources. Every city only has limited resources," said Gardner. "That went away so quickly there wasn't an opportunity to necessarily back fill."
Gardner said increasing the marijuana sales tax from four to five percent will require a city council vote and will not need voter approval. He said the city is already authorized to tax marijuana up to ten percent.
The city estimates the additional tax would generate around $1 million a year.