The Denver Police Department is beefing up its approach to combatting gun violence by joining forces with the Aurora Police Department and federal authorities in a regional task force called RAVEN.
The agencies made the announcement Wednesday at the Denver Crime Lab on Cherokee Street. The task force, which stands for Regional Anti-Violence Enforcement Network, will focus on preventing gun violence. It includes 18 agencies including the Denver District Attorney’s Office, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz didn’t need to look too far back to find the latest example of why such a program could prove useful. Just a day before the announcement, three adults and a teenager were wounded in a shooting in Aurora. RAVEN assisted in the investigation leading to an arrest on Wednesday morning.
“Fortunately, all survived,” Metz said of the gunshot victims. “It’s another sad reminder of the number of high-profile youth-related shootings that we’re seeing throughout our metro region.”
Metz said this new task force essentially replaces the old Metro Gang Task Force, but with an added component.
“We’re going to continue to do the things like the boots-on-the-ground, the investigations, all the things that MGTF used to do, but with one added component,” Metz said. “That added component is going to be the use of science and the use of our crime labs.”
Last year, Denver saw its highest murder rate in 14 years. There were 67 homicides in the city, including 49 people who were fatally shot. Officials have cited gangs and guns as one of the reasons for the uptick in homicides in 2018. At least 214 guns were stolen last year in Denver, an increase from the previous year, while at least 10 murders in 2018 were gang-related.
Right now, the department looks to be on track to surpass the number of firearms seized from the previous year. Figures provided by Denver Police showed the department seized 692 firearms between January 1 to June 11, compared to 686 during the same time span in 2018.
“From DPD’s perspective, a number of factors contribute to the seizure of firearms, such as ShotSpotter, the work of task forces, and it being a point of emphasis with DPD officers in their day-to-day work,” police spokesperson Doug Schepman said in an email Wednesday.
Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said the program is the first of its kind in the country. He said the task force’s overarching goal will be getting firearm shooters off the streets “in hours and days, not weeks and months.”
“Gun violence doesn’t just stay in Denver or Aurora, it impacts the entire metro region,” Pazen said. “For us to maximize our effectiveness, we have to work together in order to address this.”
ATF Special Agent in Charge David Booth said the new task force builds upon existing programs like the Crime Gun Intelligence Center, a federal program focusing on gun evidence operating nationally that helps local law enforcement with investigations. Metz noted there are several other task forces in the region, including ones combating human trafficking, bank robberies and internet crimes against children.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Booth pointed toward a large board and a map pinpointing the location of 13 seemingly random incidents in Aurora and Denver from April 2017 through March 2018, including several attempted murders. The task force was able to tie all the cases together to a single criminal street gang with the use of forensic technology. Booth said it led to the arrest of 19 people, including 15 who have already pled guilty to charges.
“This case is a great example of the collaboration and the regional connection that we have here with RAVEN,” Booth said.
Colorado U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn called the initiative “smart enforcement” that could have a significant impact on public safety, and pledged to dedicate resources to the task force.