DENVER–The first half of 2020 has seen a sharp spike in both violent and property crime in Denver. In some cases, the increase continues or accelerates a trend that has been in place for years, while in other cases it reverses gains. And while the increases have been city-wide, they have not been evenly distributed across city council districts.
Complete Colorado looked at the crime statistics since 2011 as reported by the Denver Police Department, using the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).[*]
Crimes are grouped into categories; we examined crimes against persons (violent crime), and crimes against property, focusing on the crimes with the largest number of incidents, as well as the category totals. This let us avoid reporting on large percentage increases for small numbers of crimes, which could just be normal statistical fluctuations.
City-wide, aggravated assault[†] is up 23% on a per-capita basis, even though violent crime is up only 1.6%. In part this is because the increase in aggravated assault is offset by a decline in simple assault and sexual assault.
Similarly, property crime (see accompanying chart) is up nearly 12% city-wide, with burglary up an astounding 36%, despite more people being home because of the COVID-19 lockdown and ongoing restrictions. Criminal mischief, generally understood as vandalism, has risen by more than 25% over this time last year. Motor vehicle theft is up a little over 15%, with thefts from cars up 12%.
.For violent crime (see accompanying chart), both the overall category and simple assault have been relatively stable for a few years. Aggravated assault, by comparison, has been rising since 2014.
For property crimes, the picture is somewhat different. Motor vehicle theft, and thefts from cars have been rising since 2014, and overall crimes against property have been edging up since 2015.
By contrast, burglary and criminal mischief, which had been declining for nearly a decade, rose sharply, erasing the bulk of those gains, returning to 2017 levels.
On a district-by-district basis (see accompanying chart), the change in violent crime holds some surprises. The change in City Council District 10 shouldn’t be entirely surprising – it contains most of the neighborhoods around Capitol Hill. But it’s a little surprising that District 2, would see such an increase. While that district has tended to vote more conservatively than the rest of the city –it was the last district to elect a Republican to City Council – it has one of the lowest average incomes at $32,500. It also has one of the highest Hispanic populations in the city at 38%. Taken together, these numbers suggest that a disproportionate number of Hispanics and lower-middle class citizens may be victims of the rising wave of property crime.
Again, there’s little surprise that Districts 9 & 10 have seen the greatest increase in criminal mischief – blocks of boarded up store windows and graffiti downtown will attest to that. But District 6, in the southeastern part of the city, is roughly in the middle in terms of income. Burglary is up the most in Districts 1 & 9, which have the highest incomes in the city, but again, District 2 is on a par with them, and second highest in car theft.
Despite that murders comprise a small component of total violent crimes, there is considerable interest in them. They have risen along with overall violent crime. In 2010, Denver had 11 murders through June and 33 for the whole year. So far this year, Denver has 38 murders, up from 26 last year at this time.
Crime has been rising per capita for some time in Denver. We’ll see through the remainder of 2020 and into 2021 whether the current spike is an acceleration of that trend, or something that the city is able to reverse.
[*] The NIBRS reports all the crimes for a given incident, as opposed to the narrower Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) standard, which reports only the most serious crime.
[†] Simple Assault is when someone has clear intent to assault another person; the more serious crime of Aggravated Assault occurs when a person attempts to inflict serious injury without regard to the life or well-being of the victim.