Police consistently blame gang violence for at least a couple homicides each year. In 2014 and 2015, when the Gang Unit was active, they reported five and three gang-related killings, respectively. In 2016 there were two, and in 2017, three.

Including attempted murder charges for 2017 the number jumps to 15.

Police can't say whether the absence of the unit led to a rise or fall in gang crime.

Their records show that, overall, gang crime - meaning those either committed by a gang member for the furtherance of the gang, by a gang associate possibly for the furtherance of the gang, or by a gang member but not for the gang - has fallen each of the past four years. Numbers dropped 30 percent in 2015, down from 1,242 crimes the previous year, before being reduced by half in 2016. From 2016, the numbers ticked up slightly to 396 in 2017, the first full year without a gang unit.

Some of the decline in overall numbers can be attributed to a change in crime focus by police, records show.

Where petty crimes and misdemeanors such as vandalism and criminal mischief made up more than half of recorded gang crime in 2014, those crimes were largely eliminated from the total in 2016 and 2017 as police focused their limited resources primarily on violent or more serious crimes - rape, murder, assault, drug and weapon violations. Those designations showed fluctuations from year to year, but no drastic deviation.

But it's also likely that patrol officers are now too busy running "from call to call to call" that they're not spotting the gang nexus, are not able to fully investigate the potential link, or are not as "diligent" in marking it on their reports, Colorado Springs police Lt. Rafael Chanza said.

While Chanza can't say that gang crime has worsened since the unit was disbanded, he also disagrees that gang crime has "taken that big of a dive."

"We may see that number (gang crimes) increase again" as the department increases manpower, he said. The department plans to add at least 120 officers by 2022. The reinforcements also could prompt the return of the gang unit, he said. (As of this month, the department said there are no plans to return the unit, though it was returning smaller versions of its previously shuttered impact team and fugitive unit in May. Chanza was a sergeant on the impact team.)

Reporter

Kaitlin is a public safety reporter with a focus on investigations. She is a proud Ohioan, champion for local libraries, volunteer reading tutor and an expert ice cream connoisseur (mint chocolate chip!). She joined the Gazette in 2016.

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