Preventing crime pays in north Aurora

The money from the state’s Department of Local Affairs is part of a pilot program in Colorado that was created during the 2016 legislative session. The money’s from the state’s Department of Correction’s budget freed up from parole reforms. It is invested in community programs aimed at crime prevention

AURORA | The state has chosen the two nonprofits to run a pilot crime prevention program that will lead to a multi-million dollar investment in north Aurora over the course of three years.

The Denver Foundation and Community Enterprise Development Services, the two nonprofits chosen to run the program, are in the process of laying the groundwork for the investments to kick off in 2018.

The money from the state’s Department of Local Affairs is part of a pilot program in Colorado that was created during the 2016 legislative session. The money’s from the state’s Department of Correction’s budget freed up from parole reforms. It is invested in community programs aimed at crime prevention.

“This program will be watched from groups from around the country because it’s so innovative. No one has done this before,” said Christie Donner, executive director of Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, who worked on passing the legislation. “This is getting on the front end of the problem. This is going to be a really comprehensive approach to crime prevention but through the lens of economic development and community development.”

Aurora along with Colorado Springs will receive $1.5 million each annually over the next three years to fund community-based programs intended to reduce the crime rate, which will be run in Aurora by the Denver Foundation. An independent evaluator will review both the grant and loan programs to see what if any impact the new program will have on the two communities.

The Denver Foundation is in the process of forming a community panel to help decide where the grants will go, said Dace West, The Denver Foundation’s vice president of community impact.

West said once the panel is finalized, they will meet on an intense schedule to form the guidelines for where the money should go in north Aurora. This first application process for possible grant recipients is set for March, with another application period coming later next year.

There are numerous options for what type of programs the grant money can go to, from after school programs to job training to improving community spaces, West said.

“We’re going to be digging down into the research with our local planning team and asking what do these things mean for your community,” West said. “What assets are there and what does the local data tell us, what is going well and what needs improvement.”

The two cities will also each receive $500,000 annually for a micro-lending program designed to spur economic activity in the designated areas, which will be run by CEDS in Aurora. The micro-loans are limited to a maximum of $50,000 each and are specifically targeted for economic development.

While the first loan from this program won’t be issued until 2018, CEDS is already reaching out to community members to let them know not only about the program but what an entrepreneur would need to qualify for a loan, said Alex Wise, executive director of CEDS.

CEDS already works in Aurora along with 45 percent of the nonprofit’s portfolio made up with Aurora investments. Wise said the microloans have a multiplier effect in the community, increasing employment and giving a business owner the ability to create a sustainable living and move off of government assistance.

The investment in small businesses and community development in north Aurora, an area that is economically struggling and underserved, is an exciting enough prospect for those involved. But the fact that the money to prevent crime is coming from reforms to sentencing and parole is a significant change for Colorado and one that everyone involved in the program believes will lead to changes across the state.

“The most substantial thing about (this program) is that this is the first time in the country this has been done. We’re taking funds taken out of the Colorado State Department of Correction’s budget and placed upstream in a community to prevent crime,” West said. “Instead of more incarcerations and lockups, this is going to see how we can really change the future of a community.” To find out more about the grant and loan programs, visit the program’s website at transformingsafety.org.