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When Denver police Cmdr. Brad Qualley drives through the area around South Federal Boulevard and West Alameda Avenue, it’s the things that are no longer there that stand out to him.

The bus stop next to Bungalow Liquors isn’t surrounded by loiterers and drug dealers anymore. A grassy spot near the Walgreens is empty. Broken down and stolen cars no longer line South Hazel Court. Graffiti still marks apartment walls, but there’s less than there used to be.

“As we’re sitting here now, I don’t see anybody,” said Qualley, who has worked in District Four for 12 years. “It was a highway of people, all the time. If you would’ve come out here in December — there’s still work to do, but it’s so much different than it was.”

His officers are also responding less frequently to shootings in the area — one of the successes of the Denver Police Department’s hot spots policing program. For more than a year, a team of officers has focused on the five-block radius around the intersection, which was identified as one of the most violent in the city in 2020. That year, police recorded 49 homicides and shootings in the vicinity. Through Aug. 31 of this year, there have been seven.

Homicides and shootings have fallen substantially over the last two years in three of the five crime “hot spots” identified in 2020 by Denver police. Former Chief Paul Pazen announced the program in May 2021 as part of a plan to mitigate a wave of homicides and shootings. Through the program, police focused on those areas and worked with community organizations as well as other city agencies to make the locations less receptive to criminal behavior.

City leaders, including the mayor, have dubbed the program a success, but violence hasn’t improved at two of Denver’s hot spots and the successes at the three others are not enough to mitigate the rising number of shootings citywide.

The five hot spots — Colfax Avenue and Broadway; Alameda Avenue and Federal Boulevard; Colfax and Yosemite Street; Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Holly Street; and 47th Avenue and Peoria Street — make up less than 2% of the city’s landmass but accounted for approximately 26% of homicides and 49% of aggravated assaults in 2020, according to the department.

Hot spots policing is a well-studied strategy that involves focusing police resources in the small geographic areas where violence is most concentrated and attempting to disrupt it, said David Weisburd, a professor at George Mason University and executive director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, who has been studying hot spots policing for decades.

That doesn’t just mean arresting people or increasing police presence, but also looking at lighting and working with nearby businesses and housing complexes to identify the origins of the problems. Sometimes the source of problems can be narrowed to a single block, a gas station or a bar, he said.

“The evidence is pretty strong that hot spots policing reduces crime,” Weisburd said, though he noted the extent of the success depended on how a program is implemented.

— Full story via Elise Schmelzer, The Denver Post 

Violence declined at three of Denver’s five crime “hot spots,” but shootings still on the rise citywide

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