Denver’s police chief wants people to remember each homicide – part of an uptick that began after 2019– involves a real person behind the statistic.
Chief Paul Pazen said Denver’s homicides this year – 60 as of Monday, he said – are on pace to exceed last year’s total of 96. Between 2010 and 2021 Colorado’s homicides more than tripled, from 101 to 364, according to data compiled by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
“I'm heartbroken with the rates of crime that we're seeing, particularly when we're talking about the homicides – the people that are killed in our communities,” he said, speaking Tuesday at a forum hosted by The Denver Gazette and Colorado Politics.
Pazen acknowledged discussing homicides in raw numbers is a departure from how reported crime statistics are usually analyzed, since they are typically put in terms of population-based rates. But he said he believes it’s an important context for homicides to humanize the statistics.
“This is what it means in real people,” he said. “Think of it as families devastated as a result of a violent crime that took a life from us.”
Among Pazen’s chief concerns about contributors to homicides are people in possession of guns illegally because of previous criminal convictions and people on court-ordered supervision who then go on to commit violent offenses.
Critics have countered that because most homicides are situational – often involving an interpersonal dispute that escalates rather than someone intentionally setting out to kill – metrics such as recidivism and repeat offenses on supervision can’t predict homicides.
A rise in Colorado’s aggravated assaults involving guns has concerning implications for homicides, an analyst for the state’s Office of Research and Statistics in the Department of Public Safety, Jack Reed, previously told The Denver Gazette. The difference between aggravated assault – which includes non-fatal shootings – and homicide is usually pure luck of where the bullet hits, he said.
“That’s probably the one piece [of crime trends] that’s the most concerning for me,” Reed said.
During the forum, Pazen also said police need to “do better” with community relationship building to prevent crime and to continue to develop programs meant to prevent situations from escalating.
Pazen highlighted national training programs for police focused on de-escalation. The Denver Police Department participates in Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement, a program for training police to intervene to stop harm by their fellow officers, and Integrating Communications, Assessments and Tactics. The latter is designed for situations involving people in crisis who are unarmed or armed with weapons other than guns.
Reforms to policing should be rooted in data and evidence of their effectiveness, Pazen said.
“There are some times that we think, ‘We want this type of training.’ And then you do an evaluation on that particular training, and you find out that that training exacerbated the problem,” he said.
“So we have to look at solutions that are rooted in evidence and data, so that way we truly can get those better outcomes and work to enhance the relationship and the trust that has been fractured not only across the country, but here locally as well,” he added.