City officials and downtown business owners have long identified fear of crime as a major impediment to keeping and attracting new customers and businesses to our city's commercial core.
Mayor Steve Bach and the City Council approved and paid for installation of surveillance cameras and even established a no-solicitation zone within the constraints of laws that protect the rights of individuals to freely associate and communicate with others. And now city officials are taking a more dramatic step in the right direction, doing that which The Gazette has advocated for years. It's a simple new formula:
More cops. More cops to patrol our downtown streets, sidewalks and park - visible to merchants, customers and criminals alike.
Police and the mayor's administration say more police in the city's central business district are part of a program called Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety, or DDACTS. In essence, the program aims to put more cops and traffic patrols in areas where traffic incidents and crime overlap the most. Downtown, cops will focus more on crime than additional traffic patrols.
"The other day, I can't remember what day it was, it must've been Tuesday, I can't tell you how many times I saw the three cops on motorcycles go past," said Dorinda Gianarelli, who owns the downtown business What's In Store, 125 N. Tejon St. "In cars, in SUVs and the guys on foot, I just feel like it was inundated and that felt great. That's what we need."
It's exactly what she, her fellow business owners and their customers have needed for years. Gianarelli and others who work and do business downtown have grown increasingly frustrated with people who loiter, beg for money, drop cigarettes on the ground and openly smoke pot.
"These aren't people that you're going to find starving to death in the homeless shelter," said Kimball Bayles, owner of Kimball's Peak Three Theater. "It's a whole different breed. They're young kids. Who knows what they're doing, but they're way more aggressive. We had a guy walk in the theater the other day just start singing at the top of his lungs, drunk out of his mind."
More cops will help because men and women in uniform make everyone else feel safe. People not only feel safer, but they are safer with trained cops nearby to deter and immediately intervene in crimes. Cops have the ability to enforce laws that are on the books. Cops on the sidewalks and streets can put laws against littering to work for us. Anyone who begs in a threatening manner can be cited and/or arrested for aggressive panhandling. With more officers in plain view, people tend to think twice before committing crimes.
So far, two more cops have been assigned to patrol downtown. The area had two officers during the day and four at night. The three-officer Homeless Outreach Team has also been assigned to spend more time patrolling downtown, which makes tremendous sense given the high number of homeless residents who spend days and nights in Acacia Park and near the downtown library.
If more cops are needed, to eliminate fear associated with downtown, we encourage Bach and Police Chief Pete Carey to assign them. This program is essential to all other efforts at revitalizing downtown.
Our central business district comprises the heart and soul of Colorado Springs. If we're to attract desirable employers and professionals - those who can help grow this economy for everyone else - we'll need to make sure downtown continues becoming more attractive by the day.
Ideas are in the works to make downtown a gem of the Front Range. God has provided a natural backdrop against which few can compete. To leverage our city's natural gifts in the 21st century, we must resolve public safety concerns downtown. More cops on foot, bicycles and motorcycles will move us quickly in the right direction.