Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation
Target Area: Westwood Neighborhood - Population: 17,000
BCJI Awardee: City of Denver
Research Partner: OMNI Institute
Focus Areas: Gun Crimes, Theft from Motor Vehicles, Motor Vehicle Thefts
BCJI Funding Year: FY 2018
Originally purchased in 1882 by P.T. Barnum of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, the Westwood neighborhood is a unique cultural center point in the City of Denver with an estimated 4,800 households and 3,500 families. It is also a neighborhood stressed by gang and gun crime. Furthermore, the impacts of gentrification throughout Denver have intensified pockets of poverty like the Westwood neighborhood. Spanning 1.5 square miles, Westwood has maintained its vibrant cultural diversity despite having some of the highest rates of poverty and crime in the city. Since 2015, the Westwood neighborhood has seen an 80 percent increase weapons offenses, including aggravated assault (58 percent increase), homicides (50 percent increase), unlawful discharge of a firearm (1,625 percent increase), and "shots fired" calls (69 percent increase). Drive-by shootings have also increased 115 percent and menacing (felony with a weapon) increased 133 percent. Additionally, the community has seen a 41 percent increase in theft from motor vehicles and a consistently high rate of motor vehicle thefts.
Many public agencies and nonprofit organizations have been created in response to the high rate of crime and poverty and the growing immigrant population. The success of these groups relies on partnerships with other community organizations and law enforcement, breaking free from the siloed structure currently in existence. Recognizing that reducing crime requires more than police enforcement, the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) grant allows for the funding of community partners to collaborate towards improving the quality of life for Westwood residents. That collaboration is at the center of this project, as this opportunity can help transform the Westwood community and redefine southwest Denver.
During the Planning Phase, the Denver BCJI team developed the following overarching goals:
- Goal 1: Reduce the rate of crimes committed with a firearm within the Westwood neighborhood and increase community efficacy.
- Goal 2: Reduce the rate of motor vehicle theft and theft from motor vehicles within the Westwood neighborhood.
- Goal 3: Strengthen Westwood families by providing quality educational, social, and economic opportunities through cross-sector partners and stakeholders.
The agencies and organizations involved in the Westwood BCJI Partnership focus on engaging the community in the following areas:
- Identifying and collaboratively addressing challenges in Westwood,
- Providing information to the residents regarding public safety trends,
- Supplying residents with educational and career opportunities,
- Creating positive contacts with youth and social intervention for at-risk youth,
- Increasing and enhancing enforcement, police visibility, and engagement, and
- Utilizing creative learning methods, on-the-job training and internships, and soft-skill trainings.
The Westwood community partners agreed upon planning and conducting a job and resource opportunity fair as their Early Action Project (EAP) in October 2019. Westwood community residents attended the community and resource fair and visited the 50-plus tables of businesses, service providers, and community organizations serving their neighborhood. Each table represented one of the following "buckets" of BCJI partners:
- Community Resource Opportunities and Awareness: Social impact groups like Wealth in Community Knowledge (WICK) and several organizations offering health insurance and low-income housing options and enrollments hosted several tables at the resource fair. Additionally, there was a health-testing van that offered free health screenings for fair attendees.
- Job Opportunities and Awareness: Approximately 25 employers had tables at the fair. These employers were looking to fill entry-level positions with individuals who had a high school diploma or GED, but not necessarily a college degree. These employers also provided youth and adults with a better understanding of career paths.
- Community Partner Organizations: Westwood BCJI partners had tables during the fair to provide information on their organizations and the benefits to their community.
Data was collected during the fair from the community on needs, expectations, and suggestions on future initiatives. This data will be utilized as part of the strategy for the Implementation Phase of the grant.
Following analysis of the community resident and partner feedback, the Westwood CBCR Partnership finalized their implementation goals:
- Reduce the rate of key crimes within the Westwood neighborhood, including gun crimes, misdemeanor and aggravated assaults, and vehicle crimes, as well as increase enforcement and prevention of illegal street racing.
- Improve police-community relations through community action groups and collaborative improvements to the built environment.
- Strengthen Westwood families by providing quality educational, social, and economic opportunities through cross-sector partners and stakeholders.
To implement the above goals, the Westwood CBCR project chose several data-driven strategies and community engagement activities:
- Use hot spot identification, community awareness, public abatement laws, and strategic police patrols to reduce gun crimes, assaults, and illegal street racing.
- Use Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) strategies to identify locations that will benefit from improved lighting, additional cameras, and visual enhancements to help reduce crime.
- Hire a full-time systems navigator for the Gang Reduction Initiative of Denver (GRID) to work with continual offenders and connect them to community resources.
- Increase community awareness of crime trends occurring in Westwood by engaging cross-sector partners, business owners, stakeholders, and community members in crime identification and analysis.
- Train police officers on community policing strategies.
- Form a Community Action Team to determine police-community relationship-building activities and CPTED priorities.
- Collaborate with community organizations to provide support for residents' basic needs, particularly those impacted by COVID-19, such as food access, key service and health care navigation, rental assistance, legal assistance for housing rights and evictions, and employment searches.
- Increase pro-social, cultural, and educational activities for high-risk youth through community partner services.
- Collaborate with faith-based organizations and neighborhood churches to provide spiritual support to individuals and families seeking their guidance.
Other Key Partners
Denver Police Department, Gang Reduction Initiative of Denver, Westwood Unidos, Denver Housing Authority, Southwest Denver Coalition, Denver Dream Center, Denver Indian Center, Denver Streets Partnership, Mi Casa Resource Center, OMNI Institute, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, BuCu West, Denver Health Family Health Center
This project is supported by Cooperative Agreement No. 2018-BJ-BX-K035 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions contained herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. References to specific agencies, companies, products, or services should not be considered an endorsement by the author(s) or the U.S. Department of Justice. Rather, the references are illustrations to supplement discussion of the issues.