Amid scourge of shootings, Aurora lawmakers push back on package of youth violence proposals

DAWN | Aurora City Council agreed 6-4 Monday to halt increased funding for the city’s youth violence prevention program, as conservative council members questioned the direction of the program and the choice of partner organizations.

“It completely exploded,” said councilor Françoise Bergan. “It’s like a massive program, I think, like (a) federal government program.”

Violence among Aurora’s youth, and shootings in particular, have cast a long shadow in recent months. Most infamously, shootings near Hinkley and Aurora Central high schools injured nine teenagers in November. That same month, The Sentinel reported that non-fatal shootings increased by 136% since 2019.

As lawmakers sparred Monday night over how best to stem the violence, Aurora police announced they were looking for suspects in the murder of a 15-year-old girl.

Program manager Christina Amparan spoke at the council study session to ask for the council’s blessing to submit a notice of funds available to organizations that could bid to lead some of the anti-violence efforts. – $600,000 for intervention and additional prevention resources.

These funds include $344,000 for a cadre of positions, including a full-time “violence interrupter,” responsible for outreach after violent incidents to reduce the likelihood of retaliation; specialized mental health treatment for those at risk; and part of the salary and other support for three workers who would provide safety planning, services and care for the violently injured.

The remainder of the funds would be used to sponsor a slate of family and community programs aimed at deterring young people from engaging in dangerous behaviors, including efforts such as:

• Provide up to 6,000 free recreation center passes.

• Creation of a space reserved for young people in a library in the northwest of Aurora.

• Fund the rollout of the Gang Resistance Education and Training program in Aurora schools.

• Support Youth Advisory Council service projects, which last year included a turkey and canned food drive that served 141 families.

• Provide one-time funding to families in crisis.

The city’s entire youth violence program is funded annually with $1.1 million from marijuana tax revenue.

Amparan told the board that the YVPP held 49 events attended by more than 2,400 people in 2021, in addition to other efforts funded by the group.

While some board members approved of the direction the program has taken, others said they were in disbelief and became critical of the direction taken since a previous discussion in December.

Bergan said she believes many of the gaps identified by the YVPP would be best addressed by county agencies, the Aurora Mental Health Center and other groups, although Amparan said program officials have met county and school officials.

“Right now, our schools and other departments don’t have the programs in place to address youth violence the way this program is trying to address it,” Amparan said.

Council member Alison Coombs pushed back on a suggestion from Bergan that the group would take “baby steps”.

“What the community is saying is, ‘We need you to do more now,'” Coombs said.

Defending the value of YVPP’s at-risk youth events, board member Juan Marcano spoke about the role baseball and music played in his own teenage years,

“These seem to me to provide some sort of structure or even escape from, say, a troubling or problematic life experience,” he said. “Getting out of a hostile environment for one evening or several evenings even in a year can make a big difference in the lives of our young people.

Councilor Danielle Jurinsky questioned why the city would spend thousands of dollars on programs like a coat drive when, she insisted, other community groups would step in to do the same for free.

She also said the program didn’t do enough to focus on the issue of gang violence and scoffed at the idea that “gang members go to yoga or find out when the next poet is going to speak.”

“We could talk about getting jobs, maybe job fairs for young people. I would love to see that in the community and for business owners to come forward,” she said.

Council member Ruben Medina said the idea that all youth violence was gang-related was “stupid” and that the group should not portray all at-risk young people as gang members.

“I’m not generalizing all kids,” Jurinsky replied. “But if we want to solve a problem, then ‘A’ let’s call it what it is, and ‘B’ let’s talk about how we’re going to solve this, and it’s not collecting coats, and collecting turkeys , and yoga in the parking lot.”

Regarding the funding, Council member Angela Lawson also said she did not believe she had enough information about the bidding process to support the program, the transparency of which she questioned.

Board members decided 6-4 not to advance the funding opportunity notice, with Coombs, Marcano, Medina and Crystal Murillo in favor, and Curtis Gardner absent.

While saying “no”, some council members said they were only pushing the proposal “for now”, and Mayor Mike Coffman ordered Amparan to speak with council members who voiced opposition to find a way forward.

“I think it’s essential for us to move forward with a program,” he said.

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