THE EYES HAVE IT – The killing fields of Denver

BY BRIAN JOONDEPH, MD

Colorado Tourism’s official website describes Denver, “The Mile High City — is where urban sophistication meets outdoor adventure. Denver is an outdoor city known for its world-class cultural attractions, thriving craft breweries, chef-driven dining and red-hot music scene, all within easy reach of the Rocky Mountains.”

All true but the description is missing something new, homicides and shootings. Perhaps this is what is meant by “urban sophistication meeting outdoor adventure”?

The Denver Post recently reported, “For second year in a row, Denver homicides and shootings on pace to meet levels of bloodshed not seen in decades.” Headlines like this aren’t for Denver, instead for real crime-ridden cities like New York, Detroit, or Chicago. But it seems Denver has joined the big leagues. 

Per the article, “In the first six months of this year, 43 people were killed in Denver homicides — a few more than the 39 people killed in Denver in the same period last year.” On the surface this doesn’t sound too bad. This could be a typical Chicago weekend. July 4th weekend in Chicago saw 104 shot and 19 killed. 

Homicides are also up in New York City. How does the Mile High City compare to the Big Apple? Rather than absolute numbers, which are meaningless given the difference in population between the two cities, let’s look at murders per 1000 residents.

Denver recorded 95 homicides in 2020 according to the Denver Post. With a population of 738,200 in 2020, this calculates to a murder rate of 0.13 per thousand.

New York City had 462 murders in 2020, with a population of 8.3 million, providing a murder rate of 0.06 per thousand, half the rate of Denver.

Imagine that. The homicide rate in Denver is twice that of NYC. Beyond homicides, 305 individuals were shot in Denver in 2020, a 51 percent increase from the previous year, per the Denver Post. This year, “On average, a person was shot in Denver every 36 hours.” A shooting a day keeps the tourists away. 

Why the sudden rise in murder and mayhem? Some blame economic uncertainty and stress due to COVID shutdowns and economic consequences. Did we see a spike in crime during the Great Depression? Actually not. As NPR noted, “Bad economies don’t cause crime waves.”

Consider instead calls by many leading Democrats to defund the police after highly publicized cases of police shootings, from Michael Brown of  fabricated “hands up don’t shoot” fame in 2014 to George Floyd last year. Many prominent Democrats, particularly in big cities, call for police defunding.

As an aside, this is an opportunity for any Colorado Republicans to step up. Cory Gardner campaigned using insipid shower commercials rather than discussing Denver crime, police defunding, homelessness, sanctuary status, and other issues relevant to Coloradans, and not surprisingly he lost what should have been an easy reelection. 

Denver activists have called for defunding the police but fortunately Mayor Michael Hancock opposes any such measures. Denver instead is using health care workers rather than police to respond to mental health cases. While that may free up police for law enforcement activities, these encounters can quickly turn violent.

The bottom line is that Denver is changing. Homelessness is on the rise, as any drive into Denver will highlight. Violent crime is also increasing. If this is what they call “urban sophistication”, many will take a pass and stay out of downtown Denver.

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