DENVER (AP) – Shootings in suburban Aurora in March that left two police officers wounded and two suspects dead helped spark a summer-long crackdown in the Denver area on suspected armed gang members, federal and local law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
Operations that began in June targeted repeat offenders and felons who illegally possessed firearms, the officials said at a news conference. The effort resulted in 80 arrests and the seizure of 121 guns, including two machine guns, three sawed-off shotguns, a silencer and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition.
“When violent people actually take the step of shooting a police officer, it shows such a high degree of danger for the general public that that really gets our attention,” said Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole, the second-ranking official at the Department of Justice. “So that was a big part of what caused this initiative to be taken. Because we recognize that the people we’re targeting were that dangerous that they would go that far.”
Police chiefs from Aurora, Denver, and Lakewood also attended the news conference. Aurora police began discussing how to prevent a violent summer in March after the two officers were wounded by gunfire in two incidents, police chief Dan Oates said.
“If you look at some of the weapons we seized — silencers, machine guns, sawed-off shotguns — it tells you about the some of the propensity for violence and the danger from these people,” he said.
Almost all the suspects arrested in the summer crackdown have affiliations with gangs that include the Crips, Vice Lords, Surenos and the Sons of Silence motorcycle gang, authorities said.
There are an estimated 8,000 to 25,000 street, prison, and motorcycle gang members in the Denver metro area, according to the FBI’s 2011 Gang Threat Assessment. U.S. Attorney John Walsh called those arrested in the crackdown the “worst of the worst.”
The suspects face felony firearm violations that carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sixty-two suspects were indicted in federal court, while 18 face charges in state court. Officials didn’t immediately release names of suspects.
Federal participation in the Denver crackdown was part of a nationwide effort following the slayings of two U.S. marshals in February and March and other police shootings across the country. Officials declined to say where else those efforts have taken place.
Ballistics information from the seized guns will be entered into the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, said Marvin Richardson, a special agent in charge for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives. The database of firearms, bullets and shell casings recovered during criminal investigations could lead to the solving of other violent crimes, he said.
By P. Solomon Banda, AP Writer (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)