AURORA | Aurora City Council members on Tuesday got behind a proposal to reorganize the city’s Youth Violence Prevention Program along the lines of a defunct anti-gang program, while directing more money toward gun-violence intervention efforts.
Aurora’s Gang Reduction Impact Program was launched in 2011 and dissolved in 2018 after voters eliminated the city’s red-light enforcement cameras. Court surcharges generated more than 70% of the program’s funding in its final year, according to city officials.
At its height, it included a program manager, four street outreach workers and a support specialist, who proactively contacted 70 youths, delivered gang awareness presentations, distributed program information at school and community events and performed risk assessment and case management work.
While council members debated the extent to which the city’s organized crime problem overlaps with the crisis of youth violence and shootings around Aurora high schools, many members welcomed the idea of A-GRIP’s return citywide.
“If there’s a group of individuals that are armed and shooting at another group, I don’t care if you call them a gang or a community activity, it’s the same problem and we need to deal with it through this A-GRIP program,” Mayor Mike Coffman said.
Councilmember Angela Lawson made the suggestion that the existing Youth Violence Prevention Program be folded into A-GRIP, while 80% of a proposed expansion in programming would be devoted to intervention activities. The rest would go toward prevention.
Earlier this month, council members debated the proposed $600,000 expansion, some $344,000 or 57.4% of which would go toward intervention efforts like support and care for violently-injured people, mental health care for at-risk youths, and hiring a “violence interrupter” who would undertake outreach after violent incidents to prevent retaliation.
The rest of the money would fund community programs and events geared toward preventing young people from engaging in risky behavior.
The violence prevention program is currently funded annually by $1.1 million from marijuana tax revenues.
Lawson had previously asserted that the competitive bidding process associated with the program had not been handled transparently, and on Tuesday sold A-GRIP’s five-point anti-gang strategy as a “foundation” for the city’s outreach work.
Other council members said they were disappointed to see that the city was likely moving away from the scope of preventative programming included in the proposed expansion.
“It feels like the rug being pulled from underneath (a) community,” Councilmember Crystal Murillo said. “I am disappointed to see that we are scaling back, because youth violence does not equal gang violence.”
Lawson argued that the program would be a resource for at-risk youth involved in violence and not only those associated with gangs.
Other supporters of Lawson’s proposal said they appreciated the range of ages served by A-GRIP — ages 5 to 24, according to Joshua Nicholas of the Aurora Police Department, though he said the typical client was between the ages of 14 and 21.
“I really like that this program follows these youth into young adulthood,” Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky said.
Members decided 6-3 to bring Lawson’s proposal forward to vote on at an upcoming meeting. Murillo, Juan Marcano and Ruben Medina were opposed, and Alison Coombs and Curtis Gardner were absent.