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AURORA, Colo. — As Colorado continues to grow and change, so too does the way local law enforcement is dealing with the rising number of people living and working here.
Aurora is experiencing rapid growth with more houses, apartment buildings and retail spaces going up just about anywhere you look. Nearly than 400,000 people now call Aurora home.
“It affects every part of what we do,” said Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz. “Not only from the standpoint of crime, but when you look at how quickly Aurora is growing, and it’s probably one of the fastest growing cities right now in the country. It’s interesting to see how it’s impacting even traffic.”
Metz says many times people tend to think of Aurora like a suburb of Denver when it is, in reality, one of the biggest Colorado cities.
“We are a big city and we’re dealing with big city issues just like the Denvers and the Seattles and the San Franciscos,” Metz said. “We are having to come up with different ways of handling situations.”
One result of all of the growth is a busier police department.
Metz says the number of car thefts went up last year, which is something that neighboring cities also experienced. Also, other things like car accidents are rising in Aurora.
“The number of traffic collisions that we respond to each day throughout the entire city is mind boggling,” Metz said. “So that creates an added burden of making sure that not only are we doing everything we can to keep the community safe from the standpoint of crime, but we’re also making sure that we’re able to adequately keep traffic in order.”
Aurora police are working with the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado State Patrol to take a critical look at things like traffic design to see whether things are fine the way they are or whether they need to change based on the higher number of motorists on Aurora roads.
Last year, the city also saw a higher number of certain crimes that were reported. One area where the police department saw a big increase is the number of sexual assaults being reported.
“We feel that probably one of the reasons that you have seen this dramatic increase is because I think people are feeling much more comfortable in being able to come out and report it,” Metz said.
In about 80 percent of those cases, the victim knew their attacker. Metz noted that Aurora is not the only city seeing an increase in the reports of these types of crimes in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
“You’re never glad to see those kinds of numbers, but at the same time I’m glad people are feeling empowered and not feeling that this is something they have to hide,” Metz said.
Another area Aurora police saw an increase in last year was the number of aggravated assaults involving firearms, particularly toward the end of the year.
Metz says there was almost a 74 percent increase in the number of violent crimes that were reported involving a firearm.
Because of that and the constant struggle to keep up with the city’s growth, Aurora is teaming up with neighboring police departments to create new task forces dedicated to dealing with crime. Those partnerships are happening on both a local and federal level.
“That collaboration between law-enforcement agencies is critical to getting a handle on lot of the issues we’ve got going on,” Metz said.
The police department is also working more closely with the community to encourage people to feel comfortable coming forward when they know something or see something.
“We can’t make a lot of those arrests without the cooperation of folks in the community and so any time there is a murder or any time there is a sexual assault or any time there is a serious crime that occurs, the one thing we know is that somebody knows something,” Metz said.
The police chief says his department is taking a three-pronged approach to deal with the growth: fight crime, reduce the fear of crime and build strong community partnerships through what Metz describes as "constitutional policing."
So far this year, Aurora police say the violent crime rate is staying steady and has even ticked down a bit.
Meanwhile when it comes to murders, Aurora has seen its rate drop a bit compared to this time in previous years.
By Denver7’s count, there have been at least eight murders in 2018. The most recent homicide was on June 25, when two men were shot on South Paris Way and one of them died. Aurora police are still searching for a suspect in that case, even offering a $2,000 reward for anyone with useful information.
Metz partially attributes the lower number of deaths to the quick work at local hospitals when someone is seriously injured.
“We’ve got probably some of the finest medical institutions in the country. I know I have seen some shootings where I was not optimistic that the individual was going to survive and they got to the Anschutz hospital or Aurora South and were able to. I think that helped a lot as well,” Metz says.
Something in particular Metz believes would help his police officers is more social services so that officers won’t have to spend so much of their time focusing on things like people going through mental health crises.
During his time as police chief, he’s seen the impact cuts to those services have on his officers.
“When you look at the economy was also seen a lot of social service agencies go under that were really providing a lot of good services to folks in the community,” Metz said. “When that happens, a lot of the issues they were dealing with now fall on the police department.”
Metz said his officers are not so strained that they cannot deal with all of the growth and change right now, but eventually the department may need more resources and more officers to accommodate all of the growth.
Despite the change and the uptick in some crimes, Metz insists Aurora is still one of the safest big cities in the state and says it has some of the lowest crime rates per capita of any city in the country.
“I’ll bet a paycheck that every police chief, particularly in a major city, will say they’re running into the same exact thing of having to now deal with issues and problems in the community that they weren’t responsible for dealing with 10 or 15 years ago,” Metz said.