District 1 Police Seek to Bring Neighborhood Watches Back to Life
When Eileen Stewart noticed her car had been broken into, she was not expecting her garage to also be targeted.
Her car and home were burglarized a few weeks after she had moved into her LoHi home.
“They definitely had a truck or something with them,” Stewart said of the burglars. “The worst moment was looking up and seeing the garage opener gone.”
Stewart said she did not take detailed inventory of what was left in the garage, but she said burglars took about $5,000 to $6,000 worth of property, leaving with fewer than 10 boxes that were marked “electronics.”
Additionally, Stewart said she has had three boxes delivered to her porch in the last two years that were stolen.
Since then, she installed a camera on her doorbell and a lighting system to the garage, but Stewart said even with the security devices it can be difficult to identify thieves.
“You can’t really get a clear picture,” Stewart said. “With COVID, everyone has masks on, even the porch pirates.”
According to the Denver Police Department, reports of vehicle break-ins with items taken from them increased from 759 in 2019 to 1,112 in 2020 — a 68% rise — in Northwest Denver’s District 1.
Residential burglaries (for instances designated as “no force”) also rose from 259 in 2019 to 397 in 2020 in District 1.
DPD stats also showed reported bicycle thefts in District 1 increased from 437 in 2019 to 663 in 2020. For January of this year, there were 32 reported bicycle thefts in the district.
Data released by DPD on reported package thefts showed that in January 2020, 15 were reported stolen, but for the month of December 68 were reported stolen and another 33 were reported for January 2021.
The statistics used in this article reflect crimes that have been reported and do not necessarily mean a crime occurred, but DPD District 1 Commander Layla DeStaffany told The Denver North Star property crimes have been on the rise.
Leaving garage openers inside a vehicle is something DeStaffany said is at the top of her list of what she tells people not to do to prevent burglaries.
“We encourage people to not leave their garage openers or identifying information because folks will come back,” DeStaffany said. “Number one is to lock your car doors. We have a lot of people who don’t do that, and those property crimes are crimes of opportunity. If you don’t give them an opportunity, they won’t look there.”
DeStaffany said people should not leave anything visible in the car, even if it has little value. Even covering items with a blanket or leaving change in the cupholder can entice criminals.
That was exemplified when Blake Piper said he was convinced his vehicle had been broken into when he noticed a tin can of smoked fish that was pilfered from his glovebox and left half-eaten. Piper moved to the LoHi neighborhood at the start of the year.
“I don’t use my car too often. I had a can of smoked sardines in the glovebox, and I noticed it was opened in my car on the passenger-side seat,” Piper said. “I must have left my car unlocked. In the back, I had ski boots and expensive outdoor gear, but they didn’t take any of that.”
Piper said a small box with items that were not valuable was taken, but he said he was able to recover it when he noticed it the next day in a man’s shopping cart near his block.
DeStaffany said DPD does investigate car break-ins, but only if they have evidence to work with.
“Any car break-in where we have evidence, we will investigate,” DeStaffany said. “So whether that’s video evidence or if somebody is a smoker and they leave a cigarette butt on the seat, that would be evidence that we would collect and that would be investigated. But if we have no leads (such as) blood, saliva, it won’t be investigated. There’s always different things and different situations.”
DeStaffany said if police notice several cars in the same area being broken into, then DPD may investigate the situation.
“But if we have no leads, there’s not a lot that we can do,” the district commander said. “If there’s any kind of evidence, and if we run the evidence as far as we can take it and we’re not making any progress, it will be ‘inactive’ is what we call it.”
Michele Cooper, a DPD community resource officer in District 1, said she is trying to bring back neighborhood watch organizations to the area, and to some places that never had them.
To form an officially recognized neighborhood watch, Cooper said 60% of residents in the proposed area must agree to participate. The watches can be for one block or several.
Cooper said residents in some northwest Denver neighborhoods reached out to her recently to start their own watches, particularly near Inspiration Point. She said neighborhood watches have been on the decline in recent years and not a lot of people were taking advantage of them.
“I think people just didn’t realize it was still out there, and it can be used as a tool to keep an eye on the neighborhoods,” Cooper said.
Once a neighborhood gets 60% of its constituents to agree to form a watch, a meeting is set up with DPD officers and annual check-in meetings take place.
Residents can then share information with one another and address any crime issues they may have.
“I think in District 1, (neighborhood watches) never peaked; some of the other districts, they are very proactive, but I think District 1 is changing and people are starting to learn what they can do,” Cooper said. “That’s the reason I want to reach out to people.”
Cooper said she’s been going door-to-door to provide informational fliers about starting neighborhood watch groups and may begin a social media campaign in the near future.
To begin the process of forming a neighborhood watch, residents can contact District 1 community resource officers at 720-913-0400 or by email at 1.Dist@denvergov.org.
Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a series of planned crime articles on Northwest Denver. Thank you to the residents who have reached out with your stories. If you would like to discuss crime in our community, please email News@DenverNorthStar.com or call 720-248-7327
Eric Heinz is a freelance reporter who most recently covered Los Angeles City Hall for City News Service before returning to Denver, Colorado.