AURORA, Colo. — One month ago, the city of Aurora was set on a timeline of turmoil, and it's the city's youth who have suffered because of it. Now, city and community leaders are diligently seeking solutions.
Beginning on Nov. 15, a shooting at Nome Park across from Aurora Central High School was the first of three incidents that left 13 teenagers shot and wounded. Teenagers ranging in age from 15 to 17 have been arrested in connection to the incidents.
On Wednesday night, in a special study session, Aurora city councilors heard presentations from the city's Youth Violence Prevention Program, Aurora Public Schools, the Aurora Mental Health Center and Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson. A student from Aurora Central High School also shared her personal experience dealing with the rash of violence.
According to a city website, Aurora's Youth Violence Prevention Program is supposed to "strategically develop and implement a hybrid model specific to the city of Aurora." The program is also supposed to be "youth and community informed and inclusive of a collaborative approach with partner agencies from various disciplines to leverage resources."
The program manager, Christina Amparan, began Wednesday's meeting saying, "As we move forward, its important for us to have a balanced approach and be inclusive of primary intervention, secondary prevention/intervention and organizational change, but also be supportive of the efforts that law enforcement or some of other criminal justice partners are implementing."
Subsequent presenters were tasked with sharing their core message within an allocated time frame.
During Wilson's presentation, she shared that the Aurora Police Department had some success with its current protocols, successfully thwarting two planned shootings. Wilson said she couldn't elaborate further with details.
The study session closed with a FAQ portion, and councilors probed stakeholders about funding, staffing and community involvement that could help ameliorate Aurora's challenges.
The Aurora Mental Health Center said they could use more adult volunteers for its Aurora Youth Options program.
Wilson conveyed that a staffing shortage continues to hinder the department in ways that only additional hires would solve.
Currently, the department has a Gang Robbery Intervention Team, which has eight investigators and a sergeant, and a gang unit with four officers and a sergeant. Wilson said for a city of Aurora's size, the best-case scenario would be to have triple that amount working on crimes with potential gang ties.
She elaborated to councilors saying the definition of the word gang had evolved: "(Kids decide) they are going to create this union or group that they have allegiance to."
Nonetheless, she pointed to "gangs" and "groups" as the impetus for many of Aurora's struggles with juvenile violence.
"I think everyone’s eyes are open to the fact that gangs or these groups out there are really perpetuating a lot of the violent crime in our city," Wilson said.