The problem at Aurora City Hall is that some city leaders continue to misunderstand that crime is mostly a symptom of societal ills and not the problem itself.
That long-standing dilemma was made apparent Monday night when Mayor Mike Coffman abruptly marshaled Police Chief Vanessa Wilson in front of the city council to explain what she’s doing about so many recent shootings.
Like every other police department in the metro area and across the nation, she said her department is sending officers out to respond to the almost daily bloodshed.
But what a solid faction of city council expects is for Wilson and Aurora police to prevent the shootings.
In the uncomplicated world of far-right political philosophy, the situation calls for more cops making more stops and stopping crime before it occurs.
In reality, it’s never happened that way and it doesn’t happen like that now.
“I cannot solve the crime problem,” Wilson told city council members pushing for more police effort to net less crime. “I need everyone to help.”
What Wilson was referring to is the reality that crime, like people, is complicated. Even the same crime — shooting someone — is committed for vastly different reasons, by vastly different people under vastly different circumstances.
Wilson said that as for the spate of recent shootings, burglaries and other crimes, there is no quick fix, and police alone cannot change it.
In fact, police are the least efficient way to prevent crime. Endless studies over decades have repeatedly made clear that drug abuse and addiction, gangs, child neglect and abuse, mental illness, financial crisis, poverty, education and plain human greed are what drive the rate of everything from murder to mundane forms of mayhem.
It doesn’t mean that a strong police present can’t deter some crime, but it doesn’t stop it. In fact, a commonly accepted police tactic is to concentrate police resources in crime “hot spots,” a tried and true way to tamp down a problem, temporarily. That effort is hampered by a steady drain of police to other agencies and out of the profession altogether. Aurora’s not alone in facing a hiring shortage, but it has felt the impact even harder than other local agencies.
What Wilson’s getting at — and some city lawmakers can’t grasp or won’t accept — is that Aurora, like Denver and everywhere else, must address critical problems of homelessness, gun proliferation and access, truancy, glorification of violence in the media, child neglect, extreme poverty and food insecurity, drug addiction, housing costs, living wage, family violence, child care, higher education and access to mental health treatment.
Wilson and other city leaders are on the right track in finding ways to use differently trained “officers” — not necessarily police officers — to respond to different kinds of calls for help.
Ensuring police are like Wilson, aware of how people end up committing crimes, is a critical part of law enforcement, not a liability, as some city lawmakers suggest.
Aurora residents “don’t wanna be woke, they wanna be safe,” Councilmember Marsha Berzins told Wilson during the briefing.
If “woke” means bothered with the facts, it would be criminal in and of itself to hide the truth from the public, that crime is the result of what too many of us don’t want to be bothered with.
People are not genetically wired to become Crips or Bloods. We recruit children into lives of crime by ignoring problems with gangs, drugs, family abuse and education. And then we expect police to check the result of our societal indifference.
Some members of Aurora City Council blame police attrition on the local, state and national push for police reform, ensuring that police act without prejudice and are accountable to the public for clearcut mistakes, malfeasance and shortcomings.
Any officer that leaves Aurora or the police profession because they must be, by law, transparent and accountable for everything they do while on duty best serves the public by checking out. And police who courageously choose to serve all of the public fairly, equitably and compassionately should be financially rewarded and publicly lauded for what is often a boring, aggravating and dangerous and thankless job.
This doesn’t mean that hard-working, busy and often overwhelmed families have to set out to feed the hungry, house the homeless and make sure every child does their homework. It means that we all must ensure leaders understand those problems must be addressed to reduce crime so we don’t need armies of police to show up after the fact.