Gunfire is ringing across the city. These neighborhoods are where it’s the worst.

It’s worse in the city’s southwest corner, but gunshots can be heard across the city.

Keith Clasen holds a bullet he found near his Barnum home. Nov. 18, 2022.

Keith Clasen holds a bullet he found near his Barnum home. Nov. 18, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
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When Jessica Milano saw the big, open kitchen in her Barnum neighborhood home for the first time, she became emotional.

“I started crying because it was so beautiful,” Milano said, recalling that first impression.

It was partly that reaction that convinced the seller to accept Milano’s offer. “She wanted her house to be as loved as she loved it,” Milano said.

But within a couple of weeks elation turned to shock when they saw a police officer out front.

“It was just around sunset, and a police officer was collecting shell casings in front of our yard,” said Milano, 44. “I mean, it was broad daylight. It was not [the] middle of the summer. It was early in the year. It was very surprising.”

Milano, an attorney who moved into the home last year, didn’t realize that Barnum, and other southwest Denver neighborhoods are a hotspot for gunfire.

“No, we had no idea,” said Milano. “We moved here from Park Hill where there traditionally had been a lot of that there, so no, I didn’t realize that it was tenfold over here.”

Gunfire is worse in the city’s southwest, but its sound plagues neighborhoods throughout the city. Reports of unlawful discharge of a weapon have tripled in Denver since 2017, according to DPD data.

The increasingly common sound of gunfire comes as crime across the city is on the rise, putting businesses and residents on edge, and likely becoming a major issue in the Spring municipal elections.

Total incidents reported in the Denver Police Department data have increased 25% over 2019 levels, with large increases in things like auto theft and aggravated assaults.

The rise in gunshot reports partly reflects the addition of microphones to Denver Police Department’s ShotSpotter system, which can geolocate gunshots as they happen. The system was expanded in 2018 and 2020.

But DPD says it’s more than just new sensors.

“I just think that the prevalence of guns is just continuing to rise,” said  Chief of Police Ron Thomas. “Over the last three years we’ve set records each year, and we will set another record this year, for total gun recovery. So there’s just a greater prevalence of guns out there on the street.”

Thomas said that DPD has a number of initiatives to address gun violence, including a gun buyback program that took nearly 1,000 guns off the street and a gun ownership and storage program to educate on how to maintain firearms safely.

Thomas said that many crime guns are stolen from unsecured locations, like from a car.

When a report of gun fire comes in, police are dispatched to the location, and in many cases recover shell casings as evidence.

A recent incident report from the Westwood neighborhood of Denver. Officers often respond and recover shell casings as evidence to potentially link to other shootings or crimes.

A recent incident report from the Westwood neighborhood of Denver. Officers often respond and recover shell casings as evidence to potentially link to other shootings or crimes.

Denver Police Department

“The recovery of shell casings is certainly helpful in us tying crimes together and building leads and identifying individuals that are responsible for gunfire out there,” and that’s why it’s important that people continue to report gunfire to DPD, said Thomas.

Right now 80% of gunfire calls to the police are coming from ShotSpotter, not residents, said Thomas. He said maybe that’s distrust of the police, or thinking that police don’t care.

“Hey, we do care,” Thomas said. “We are gonna come out here, we are gonna search for evidence. We are gonna come back in the morning and do some follow up to see if we can find witnesses or see if we can find additional evidence that we may have missed during the darkness.”

Investigating these incidents is important because “Those are precursors to additional violence,” Thomas said.

Parks are known hotspots, where stolen guns are sometimes tested out.

Councilwoman Jamie Torres represents Barnum and other southwest Denver neighborhoods that are hotspots for gunfire. She said she’s well aware that the park in Barnum is a particular problem.

“We are currently in the midst of trying to intervene,” said Torres, who added that she’s working with Parks & Recreation, DPD and Xcel Energy to add more lighting to the park in Barnum. “It’s just some of that built environment stuff that we can change and determine, does that small investment make a difference in what’s happening there at night and over the weekend? And I’m hoping that it does.”

Torres said she also wants to limit the afterhours traffic in the parks.  The changes appear to be working more recently. Torres’ office reports that there’s been a 56% reduction in gunshot incidents since October around Barnum Park.

Torres said she’s generally supportive of ShotSpotter, to get a better sense of where the problem spots are. “But that’s only a part of making any resident feel at ease. They really wanna better understand that something’s happening with that.”

Some things are out of the city’s control: Denver can’t stop the overwhelming trend of new guns coming into Colorado.

Since June 2020, Coloradans have purchased about one million guns, according to data from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Coloradans are buying about 100,000 more guns a year than in the years before the pandemic.

Back in the Barnum neighborhood, some of the evidence of all those new guns is suddenly put in front of Jessica Milano, when her partner Keith Clasen walks into the kitchen and puts a bullet on the counter.

“I was actually talking to a neighbor who pointed it out,” Clasen, 47, tells Milano. “And he picked it up and he handed it to me and I was like, my jaw was kind of on the ground. I was like, ‘holy crap.'”

They theorize that it must have come from being shot into the air.

“Now I’m glad we weren’t outside when it came down,” said Milano, who is quick to thank councilwoman Torres and the police for all their efforts, even though getting changes to the nearby Barnum park has sometimes been frustrating.

“We love it here,” said Milano. “We love the neighborhood and we want to stay. It’s just, it’s not sustainable.”

 

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