Aurora’s top law enforcement officials could not pin down an exact cause for the city’s spiking gun violence, but said the bloodshed would not stop quickly and would take a dedicated, long-term solution.
“It’s not a quick fix,” Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said in a presentation to Aurora City Council on Monday. “There’s no band-aid. It must be a commitment by the city.”
In Aurora, 13 people have been killed in the killings in the first six months of 2021 and 74 others have been shot and survived. It is on pace to meet gun violence levels in 2020, when gun violence accelerated and the number of homicides and shootings doubled from a year earlier.
Data from Aurora Police shows that more people have been injured in shootings in the first half of 2019 than in 2019. The numbers are alarming, Wilson said.
“I wish I had a crystal ball, I wish I had a magic bullet, that I could tell you what’s going on,” she said.
The chief listed a variety of factors that could influence crime, including the stress and financial impact of COVID-19, changes in the criminal legal system during the pandemic, an influx of illegal guns and easy access to firearms.
Mayor Mike Kaufman said, “I know we are all getting complaints that there is an increase in gun violence in our city.”
Wilson said the department was also badly affected by the shortage of officers. So far in 2021, 72 officers have left the department, taking their staffing level to 691 officers. The city had a budget of 742 officers.
Staffing shortages have meant that the department has temporarily isolated or reduced some of its specialized teams, such as the SWAT and cycle patrol unit. Instead, those officers are roaming through patrol shifts, which Wilson said she’s paying overtime to fill. In an effort to bring new officers in uniform faster, the department is organizing five smaller academies instead of the usual two. The department is also looking into hiring non-law enforcement officers to handle certain duties, such as taking non-fatal car accident reports.
“They’re tired and they’re tired,” Wilson said of his officers.
But the department is still trying various methods to reduce crime, including focusing patrols on crime “hot spots” and forming a team to focus on robberies with gang connections. The department also applied for the Crime Reduction Program through the US Department of Justice.
Crime data collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows that Aurora’s per capita violent crime rate more than doubled between 2010 and 2020, meaning that the increase in violent crime outpaced the rate of growth of the city is. In 2010, the violent crime rate was 4.5 crimes per 1,000 residents. By 2020, this rate increased to 9.6.
The property crime rate, however, increased only slightly during that time period. There were 30.9 offenses per 1,000 property in 2010 and 33.9 offenses per 1,000 in 2020.
Every major category of violent crime saw a significant increase between 2019 and 2020, except for sexual assaults – which fell 22%, According to the data of Arora Police. Murders increased by 39%, serious attacks increased by 33% and robberies increased by 22%.
Over the same period, arrests by the Aurora police decreased by 47%, according to statistics.
Wilson said that arrest cannot be the only solution to a crime. She said nonprofits and city programs need to address some of the underlying causes of crime: instability, financial need and lack of mental health resources.
“It’s not just a problem the police can deal with,” Wilson said.