On the February 23 broadcast of KBDI Channel 12's Colorado Inside Out, Denver Post editorial writer Dan Haley falsely asserted that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper "won't talk about a gang problem." In fact, Hickenlooper has spoken publicly about the city's gang problem, and media outlets have reported on his administration's efforts to address it.
While discussing Denver District Attorney Mitchell Morrissey's recent statement that his office would require $460,000 to conduct grand jury investigations into Denver's most active street gangs, Denver Post editorial writer Dan Haley falsely asserted on the February 23 broadcast of KBDI Channel 12's Colorado Inside Out that "we have a mayor who won't talk about a gang problem." However, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) has made several statements to the press recently acknowledging the problem of street gangs in the city; a February 10 Rocky Mountain News article quoted Hickenlooper as saying, "Let's make it clear we have gang problems."
The News article reported, "Hickenlooper said his administration has mounted an aggressive, regional campaign to tackle the problem [of gang violence], but that it has chosen to listen to experts and not boast about it." According to the article, Hickenlooper said: "Let's make it clear we have gang problems, even though the actual crime data doesn't show that ... It doesn't say we have a serious problem with gangs, but that doesn't mean we aren't seriously addressing it." The News further reported:
National crime experts contend that publicizing gangs by name only adds to their street mystique.
"To try to go out there and do a campaign and name names, saying we're going to get this gang or that gang is not the right approach," Hickenlooper said. Gang crime in Denver is drawing increased attention because of the Jan. 1 death of Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams, who police believe was shot by someone in a sport utility vehicle registered to a known gang leader.
A January 18 News article noted that "[t]he number of cases investigated by the Denver police gang unit has increased 83 percent since 2001," a figure that does not include homicide cases, one-third of which were thought to be gang-related in 2006. The News reported that Hickenlooper "said the city takes all forms of crime 'very seriously' ":
"Gang activity is no exception," Hickenlooper said in a statement.
"That said, serious crime fell 8.8 percent in 2006, and I credit that drop in part to our first-rate police department gang unit," the mayor said.
"They are aggressive in their efforts to investigate and control this activity, and Denver devotes considerable resources to eliminating this problem."
And on February 11, the Post quoted Hickenlooper as saying, "If the perception out there in the community is that the city is not responding [to the gang problem], then we need to find ways to tell them what we're doing, without provoking gang recruiting or other negative consequences."
As Colorado Media Matters has noted, Hickenlooper's administration publicly has approached the city's gang problem partly by implementing crime prevention programs such as the "broken-windows approach," which organizes neighborhoods to cooperate with police in eliminating minor crimes such as graffiti and traffic violations in an effort to drive out potentially serious criminals. And, acknowledging the connection between graffiti and gang violence, Hickenlooper in October 2006 hosted a summit that specifically addressed the problem of graffiti in Denver.
In fact, a February 14 Denver Daily News article pointed specifically to Hickenlooper's anti-graffiti program as an element of his strategy to fight gang violence:
Hickenlooper suggested that the Denver Police Department continue to reach out to Denver's communities and work with kids before they start graffiti tagging, an inevitable first-step towards gang membership.
"I think they are continuing to evolve in terms of how they address gang violence," Hickenlooper said of the Denver Police Department. He added that more and more officers are on the streets in Denver working with kids and the community as a whole.
From the February 23 broadcast of KBDI Channel 12's Colorado Inside Out:
HALEY: Do we have a gang problem in Denver? I haven't heard the mayor say anything about a gang problem in Denver. And here he's privately raising money for a gang attorney? What's that all about? Where's the money coming from? He won't say. Is the donor in charge of this attorney? Is this attorney going to work for the city?
And, you know, maybe I'm just a little suspicious, but we have a mayor who won't talk about a gang problem going behind the citizens' backs and raising private money for a gang attorney. It's all -- it's just a very, very strange to me.
I think if Mitch Morrissey wants the money, he's probably going to get it. I think David's absolutely right: nothing will get the attention more than, "Hey I need half a million dollars for gangs." But first let's have a conversation about it citywide and say, "We have a gang problem, what are going to do about it?" I like his tack of having a grand jury go after these things. I think they have more leverage than a regular investigation does. And I think that's a good way to go about it.