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‘Not much we can do’

By CU News Corps

El Paso County is leading the state in gun deaths so far this year.

In fact, El Paso County and Colorado Springs are seeing an increase in homicides over the same time last year.

El Paso County accounts for 24 of the 104 gun deaths tracked by the CU News Corps in 2013.

Of those 24 deaths, half were homicides, 11 were suicides and one was an officer-involved shooting.

That compares with 21 gun deaths in Denver and 15 in Arapahoe County.

El Paso County has about 10,000 more people than Denver – with 644,964 residents in 2012 compared to Denver’s 634,265. Arapahoe County’s population in 2012 was 595,546, according to the U.S. Census.

“Unincorporated El Paso County has had five homicide incidents resulting in six deaths,” El Paso Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Kramer said. “This is a noticeable increase over 2012, where we had three homicides all year.”

The study identified three gun-related deaths so far this year in La Plata County: two suicides and one officer-involved shooting.

Guns were used in three of the six homicides in the unincorporated part of El Paso County.

When asked how a law-enforcement agency responds to such a trend, Kramer said, “When we see an increase in homicides like this, there’s not much we can do but make sure we continue to be thorough with each investigation and seek justice for the victims and their families.”

Barbara Miller, spokeswoman for the Colorado Springs Police Department, echoed that sentiment.

“There’s no way to predict who might commit a crime or where it will occur,” she said.

There have been 12 homicides in Colorado Springs so far this year, nine of them the result of guns. At the time of the last homicide, April 7, the Colorado Springs Police Department said on its Facebook page that at the same time last year, the city had eight homicides.

While Miller said Colorado Springs police haven’t noticed a dramatic increase in gun deaths, she noted the prevalence of violent crimes in general, including those resulting in the death of children.

“A few years ago, we had several child-abuse homicides,” Miller said. “This year and last, there have been multiple homicides by stabbing, as well.”

As the most populous county in Colorado, El Paso has seen massive growth in recent decades. El Paso essentially doubled its population between 1980 and 2010, much of which occurred in the urban sector. One resident ties the gun deaths to that urban growth.

“The violence here has seemed to increase over the years,” said Barb Berntsen of Colorado Springs. “It seems like every time I turn on the TV lately, there’s another shooting, another shooting, another shooting.”

Sandy Way, spokeswoman for the El Paso County Coroner’s Office, is less concerned about the 2013 numbers. While El Paso, Denver and Arapahoe counties have had the lion’s share of homicides in Colorado, she notes that those counties have the largest populations and therefore the most deaths.

“We’ve done 290 autopsies this year,” Way says, “When you count how many gun deaths, you also have to look at the whole number of deaths, too.”

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