By Joel Hillan

DENVER (CBS4) — The Denver Police Department (DPD) has been awarded a federal grant for $999,989 to reduce crime in the Westwood neighborhood in western Denver near Federal Boulevard and Mississippi Avenue.

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“I grew up right up the street,” said Karla Najera, an education specialist for the Owen Boys and Girls Club.

Inspired by her little brother’s experience after he joined the club at 8 years old, she joined when she was in middle school.

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“It just opened a whole new world for us and we understood then why my brother was always so excited to be here,” she said. And she’s been there ever since.

“It’s a great neighborhood, it really is,” said Denver Police Commander Mark Fleecs.

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He believes in this community, and feels adding enforcement isn’t necessarily the solution to reducing the neighborhood’s high crime rate.

“There’s 40 percent of the population who reside here in Westwood have less than a high school education,” Fleecs said. He says the last numbers he saw showed 44 percent live with a household income of less than $30,000 a year.

“We’re going to work on a lot of those social determinates to see how we can bring resources in and connect them to families and individuals who live here,” he said.

To do that, they are investing the grant money in trusted community partners like the Boys and Girls Club.

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They want to use the money to hire temporary staff to help more kids with summer reading programs.

“It’s sending a good message to members in our community that others are willing to invest in them,” said Najera.

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A positive interaction with police, they hope will stop crime before it starts.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here. I’m very optimistic that over the course of the next three years we are going to take things to the next level.”

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The grant money is to be used over 36 months and will also go to other community partners like Westwood Unidos, Southwest Denver Coalition, Denver Housing Authority, Mi Casa Resource Center, Denver Indian Center, Little Saigon Business District/Walk Denver, Gang Reduction Initiative of Denver and OMNI Institute.

Joel Hillan

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