In the first seven months of 2020, more people have been killed in homicides in Aurora than in all of 2018.
Twenty-three people have been killed in the city so far this year — up 53% from the 15 people killed in the same time period last year and more than the 18 people killed in all of 2018, according to department data. In the first six months of the year, every category of major crime except sexual assault is up over the first six months of 2019.
Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said in an emailed statement to The Denver Post that it’s impossible to pinpoint an exact cause for the rise in crime.
“The rise in crime is not only an issue for the police department, but for our entire community,” she said.
Aurora isn’t the only Front Range city seeing large increases in violent crime. Denver is on track to have its deadliest year in a decade, and aggravated assaults are up 22% percent in the first half of the year. Several large cities across the country are reporting similar trends.
“Aurora is not immune to the metro, and even country wide, increase in violent crimes,” Wilson said.
Crime experts also say that it’s difficult to tell exactly why many violent crimes are on the uptick because there are so many factors: a pandemic that has altered nearly every aspect of daily life, the ensuing economic fallout, and nationwide protests of police brutality that affect how people think about policing.
“It’s hard to disentangle the these events,” said David Pyrooz, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder who studies crime. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to do that.”
A study of crime rates in 27 large U.S. cities, including Denver, found that many categories dropped during the first weeks of the pandemic when businesses were closed and states enacted stay at home orders. Beginning in May, however, rates of homicide and aggravated assault started to rise significantly, the researchers found. The study was compiled for the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, a panel of experts tasked with examining the effects of the pandemic on the country’s criminal justice system.
The authors of the study found there’s no clear connection between recent protests of police brutality and the violent crime increase. The pandemic has interrupted methods police and community groups use to prevent and interrupt violence, the study states.
“Subduing the COVID-19 epidemic is also a necessary condition for halting the rise in violence,” the study’s authors wrote. “The police, public health, and community approaches to violence reduction require that people meet face-to-face; they cannot be replaced by Zoom. An underappreciated consequence of the pandemic is how social-distancing requirements have affected outreach to high-risk individuals.”
Every one of the Aurora Police Department’s three districts has seen an increase in major crimes, defined as murder, sex assault, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft and larceny.
Aurora Deputy Chief Harry Glidden said in a City Council committee hearing Thursday that eight of the homicides were connected to drug sales, two to gang activity and one was a domestic violence homicide. Underlying circumstances for the other cases remain unclear, he said.
Councilwoman Allison Hiltz, chair of the Public Safety, Courts and Civil Service Committee, called the increase in crimes alarming.
Overall, violent crime is up in the city by 17% and major property crimes are up 12% compared to the first six months of 2019. Here’s how the crimes break down from Jan. 1 to June 30 and compare to last year’s numbers for the same period:
- Sex assault victims: 125, down 27%
- Aggravated assault victims: 986, up 27%
- Robbery victims: 334, up 14%
- Burglary incidents: 795, up 23%
- Motor vehicle theft incidents: 1,407, up 21%
- Larceny incidents: 3,667, up 7%
Part of the problem is that some property crime suspects aren’t being locked up after arrests because of how jails and courts have changed procedures to limit the number of people inside detention facilities, which have been hotspots for outbreaks of COVID-19. Those people then commit more crimes, Wilson said.
The early research on the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic shows it has had a mixed effect on crime, Pyrooz said.
A medical system overburdened by COVID-19 demands could have an impact on the homicides numbers, he said.
“The difference between an aggravated assault and a homicide often has to do with our first responders,” he said.
More broadly, the daily routines and resources of millions of people have been disrupted by the pandemic, impacting how crime occurs, he said. Police, too, are adjusting how they respond in light of increased health risks and renewed criticism of their profession.
“The trend is not looking good in Aurora,” Pyrooz said of the crime data. “The trend is not looking good in Denver. Someone in leadership’s got to say enough is enough.”
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