Local cops, feds scrap metro gang task force, introduce new gun violence network RAVEN

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AURORA | A cadre of Colorado law enforcement agencies, including the Aurora Police Department, on Wednesday morning formally announced the formation of an updated task force that will focus on curbing gun violence in the metro area.

More than a dozen local, state and federal departments have been working since the beginning of the year to investigate crimes through RAVEN, or the regional anti-violence enforcement network.

The group aims to use advanced forensic techniques, including extensive ballistic analysis, to expedite the arrest and prosecution of violent criminals committing offenses across the metroplex.

“Our goal with this is to get shooters, people that are creating harm to our metro area, off the street in hours and days not weeks and months,” Paul Pazen, chief of the Denver Police Department, said at a press conference in Denver June 12.

Since RAVEN was formally launched on Jan. 1, the group has helped arrest 54 people, seize 1403 grams of drugs, 970 pills and recover 45 guns.

Nick Metz, chief of the Aurora Police Department, said the new group signals a shift to a more hyper-local approach to law enforcement.

“It’s really specific to our metro region vs. before there were cases that were involving things that were coming up through Mexico or in California,” he said. “We get that, but our main concern right now is street safety.”

In recent days, the group helped Aurora police arrest a suspect in connection with the quadruple shooting near East Mississippi Avenue and Peoria Street early Tuesday morning, Metz said.

“RAVEN played a key role,” he said of the investigation.

The new coalition will ostensibly replace the metro gang task force, a longstanding group of agencies intended to curb gang violence across the region.

“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 and that added component is going to be the use of science,” Metz said.

In the first five months of the year, RAVEN investigators added 322 leads to the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, according to information outlined at the press conference. Overseen by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the database stores and tracks images of bullet casings found at crime scenes, helping investigators track weapons and determine if a gun has been used to commit multiple crimes. 

David Booth, special agent in charge for the local branch of the ATF, said the database helped investigators link 13 shootings that took place in Aurora and Denver from April 2017 to March 2018 to a single criminal street gang. The investigation resulted in the arrest of 19 people, 15 of whom have pleaded guilty to the charges filed against them.

In addition to Aurora and Denver police, a slew of Front Range law enforcement groups will have a hand in RAVEN, including the Lakewood Police Department, sheriff’s offices in Arapahoe and Jefferson counties, groups in Douglas County, and the Denver District Attorney’s Office.

The Colorado Air National Guard and the state Department of Corrections will offer help at the state level.

Homeland Security Investigations, the local U.S. Attorney’s Office, the U.S Marshals Service, the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and the ATF will pitch in federal resources.

“This is the first of its kind anywhere in the country,” Pazen said. “ … Gun violence doesn’t stay in Denver or Aurora — it impacts the entire metro region. And for us to maximize our effectiveness we have to work together in order to address this.”