Colorado Springs police beef up downtown patrols

By Daniel Chacon Updated: August 19, 2013 at 8:53 am • Published: August 18, 2013 | 9:25 pm 0

The trail of wet dog poop on the sidewalk near Tejon and Bijou streets in downtown Colorado Springs immediately caught the attention of police officer Chris Kelly.

"That's disgusting," Kelly, a member of the police department's Downtown Area Response Team, or DART, said while walking the beat Thursday afternoon.

Even though picking up dog waste isn't in his job description, Kelly intended to find a shovel to clean up the mess.

"I do whatever I can," said Kelly, who earlier had picked up trash in front of the 7-Eleven on Tejon and Pikes Peak Avenue.

The officer's actions are part of a larger effort by the police department and the administration of Mayor Steve Bach to spruce up the heart of the city.

With business owners and residents continuing to complain about crime, a seemingly growing vagrant population and other unsightly problems downtown, the police department is beefing up its presence.

Two more officers have been assigned to the downtown beat, which already had two officers working the day shift and four at night. In addition, the three-man Homeless Outreach Team will spend more time downtown, and patrol officers from the Gold Hill Division are being encouraged to spend 15 to 30 minutes patrolling the area and looking for problems to solve, police Cmdr. Pat Rigdon said.

"What that does is it really creates a lot of officers coming and going from the area and just gives us that enhancement," said Rigdon, who oversees the Gold Hill Division, one of four in the city.

Rigdon said he won't be satisfied until people say they feel safe going downtown.

"I know I personally have heard people say, 'I'm not going downtown. I don't feel safe down there,'" he said. "When I hear that, it's a problem that people can't feel comfortable going to what is really the heart of a city."

The increased police presence is part of a new pilot program downtown called Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety, or DDACTS.

The program correlates crime and traffic data and traditionally increases police visibility and traffic enforcement where they overlap the most. The program has been tested in other parts of the city, including along Murray Boulevard between Platte and Pikes Peak avenues.

Even though a police analysis of crime and traffic data found that downtown is among areas in the city where crime and traffic accidents overlap the most, traffic enforcement in the downtown experiment won't play a major role, Rigdon said.

Another key difference is that the time commitment will be longer, Rigdon said.

"I don't think we knew or looked at it as a long-term project, and I think that's really what this has to be," he said. "It has to be a sustained presence for it to have the impact that we want. We're really committed to implementing this enhanced presence, this model downtown, at least through 2013."

Dorinda Gianarelli, who owns the downtown shop What's In Store, 125 N. Tejon St., said it will take a sustained effort to make a difference.

"I'm having less and less patience and getting a little more angry, so the cops are just going to make a huge difference," Gianarelli said. "They've got to keep it up. They can't slack off. They got to hit it hard and keep going with it."

Gianarelli said it "delights" her heart to see more police on the streets, which has made her feel safer.

"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," she said. "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."

The department may base a number of officers in a downtown building. One of the locations under consideration is the basement of 6 N. Tejon St., the building where The Gazette will relocate later this year.

"We might be neighbors," Rigdon said.

Like Gianarelli, Kimball Bayles, owner of Kimball's Peak Three Theater, said it will take a long-term commitment to make a difference downtown.

"I've been hyping on these guys forever," he said. What the mayor doesn't understand and nobody has understood in the past is you have to get these guys out of the patrol cars and get them on the streets. You have to have a presence, and 30 minutes is not enough."

Bayles said he has an older clientele that is scared to go to his theater because of the types of people they encounter on the way.

"These aren't people that you're going to find starving to death in the homeless shelter," he said. "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."

Susan Edmondson, CEO of the Colorado Springs Downtown Partnership, said the mayor and police department are taking the issue "very seriously."

"We've seen dramatic, noticeable improvements literally in just the past couple of weeks," she said.

"Equally important, the city is researching long-term solutions that address the mental-health issues that can be at the core of some of our vagrancy challenges," Edmondson said.

Rigdon said he doesn't expect to see increases in crime in other parts of the Gold Hill Division. The two additional officers assigned to downtown will be replaced by recent graduates of the police academy.

"The neat thing about DDACTS is it really isn't going to require us to put that many more resources downtown," he said. "It's just using our existing resources a little more strategically."

Rigdon said the department is fighting crime in other hot spots in Gold Hill.

"We are trying to be sensitive to everybody," he said. "We'd love to be able to flood every area, but we just have to be very strategic about how we do it."

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Contact Daniel J. Chac? 476-1623.

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