When Denver police sped to the scene of a shooting on June 27, 2022, they found a victim lucky to be alive — and a case that could just as easily have been a homicide. A man and woman had attempted to steal an unoccupied car that was idling at a gas station. When the owner chased them on foot, one of the assailants shot him in the face. Somehow, the bullet deflected off his mouth. He lost some teeth, but he didn’t lose his life, The Marshall Project and USA Today report. The difference between life and death was a matter of inches or less. In most big cities, that arbitrary outcome might have determined whether the shooter faced justice. That’s because major police departments devote far fewer resources to solving nonfatal shootings than they do fatal ones. Police generally clear about half of homicides by arresting a suspect. When the victim survives, departments in some cities make an arrest in fewer than 1 in 10 shootings, .
Not in Denver, as the car thieves would learn. In the past few years, the Mile High City has set out to end the disparity between how police treat homicides and near-homicides. Other cities are taking notice. In 2020, responding to an uptick in gun violence, Denver police adopted the uncontroversial but unusual approach of seriously trying to solve every nonfatal shooting. Officials created a new unit, the Firearm Assault Shoot Team ( FAST), devoted to the task. Over the last three years, FAST has cleared hundreds of shootings, arresting suspects or issuing warrants for their capture at nearly triple the department’s previous rate for these violent crimes. The effort has shown that when detectives have the time, resources and commitment, they can resolve most shootings. Iit raises uncomfortable questions about why police departments across the rest of the U.S. do not. “The only difference between a nonfatal shooting and a homicide is luck,” said Paul Pazen, the former Denver police chief who launched FAST in 2020. “Policing shouldn’t come down to luck.”