DENVER — The Westwood neighborhood in southwest Denver is an area that should be known for its colorful murals and cultural diversity. Instead, in recent years, the area has been known for its high crime rate.
Just last week, four people were injured and a teenager was killed in a shooting in the area; it was just the latest case of violent crime to trouble the neighborhood.
“Once you cross over and you’re in the Westwood neighborhood you are 170% more likely to be a victim of a violent crime,” said Pearl Lopez, a community advocate and the founding board president of the Southwest Denver Coalition.
In an effort to reduce the crime, two years ago, the Denver Police Department applied for and was awarded a federal grant through the Department of Justice.
Since being awarded the grant, DPD has been studying the root causes of the higher crime rate in the area and trying to come up with a plan to address them.
“Part of the reason why we selected the neighborhood of Westwood is because there are more challenges with these communities and there are with a lot of the other communities that surround it,” said Mark Fleecs, the DPD commander for District 4. “For me, it’s addressing the core issues.”
This month, the department will present that plan to the DOJ for its approval before using the $1 million grant to implement programs to help.
Through its research, Denver Police found that the area has a high percentage of single mothers, homeownership is much lower than other parts of the region and that the overall education level is lower.
The department is now looking at things like lighting conditions, issues with parks, youth services help, housing counseling and financial counseling to help build up the community.
It is partnering with groups like Mi Casa, BuCu West, Westwood Unidos and more to try to connect residents with resources to address some of the root causes of crime.
The grant program is also encouraging more collaboration between these groups to link services for a more holistic approach.
“This grant really set the foundation for it and really instill that collaborative partnership where we are just in sync with each other,” Lopez said. “If we can’t help somebody with the services that we provide, we can send them to another agency.”
The police department is also reaching out to young aspiring leaders in the area to act as community voices.
A group of teenagers is now producing a monthly community newsletter called Southwest Vida in both English and Spanish to better connect the residents with one another.
Sayuri Toribio is one of the writers for the newsletter and says along with updating the community on the crime and programs available, it will also offer advice on things like writing résumés and applying for internships or jobs.
“Our purpose is to teach our southwest residents from the youth perspective what substance abuse is, tips on mental health, resources, food banks and issues going on in the community,” Toribio said. “We are working really hard to like, make residents in our community feel safe and find ways to have them not be involved in that.”
DPD hopes that by reaching out to better connect with the community and provide resources to help residents, the crime rates will start to go down.
“A lot of it is centered on bringing the community together,” Fleecs said. “This is something that we can’t do as a police department by ourselves, we need the communities help, we need community involvement.”
After submitting the proposal to the DOJ this month, DPD is hoping to start implementing some of the programs in the fall.