Updated: July 30, 2014 at 9:41 am
Neighborhood safety in Colorado Springs recently took a big hit, and I never saw it coming.
Dennis Moore has resigned as a volunteer coordinator for the Colorado Springs Police Department's Neighborhood Watch program.
Longtime Side Streets readers will recognize the 66-year-old Moore by his nickname "Mr. Neighborhood Watch."
For the past six years or so, if there was a question about protecting homes or businesses, or how to secure homes from intruders, or ways to avoid identity theft, the answer often came from Moore.
Working as a volunteer, Moore became the face of the Police Department's Neighborhood Watch program.
He trained block captains. He coordinated monthly Neighborhood Watch programs. He taught classes such as "Refuse to be a victim" and other personal safety courses. He visited homes of elderly residents to assess their risk and recommend ways to improve locks and lighting to discourage criminals.
Most important, I think, was his work fighting apathy. Moore knew the key to safe neighborhoods is vigilance. Build a network of neighbors who know and care about each other and that bond will encourage them to guard each others' backs.
"I enjoy making the community safe," Moore told me. "I enjoy talking to people. It's a lot of fun."
His work earned him "good neighbor" awards from the Colorado Springs Fire Department and honors as the Colorado Springs Public Safety Volunteer of the Year in 2011.
Moore became known and respected and was appointed to city boards and task forces and oversight committees.
I first introduced readers to Moore in 2006 when the retired Air Force program analyst was working as block captain for the Bandelier Drive neighborhood watch group he had founded after he moved to the neighborhood in 1991.
I wrote about him again in 2009 after he became citywide Neighborhood Watch coordinator.
Before Moore joined the CSPD, there was no one to keep track of the watch groups, run quarterly meetings, launch new groups, train block captains.
After Moore took over, he grew the number of groups from under 200 to over 800. Today, the agency counts about 570 Neighborhood Watch groups after thinning out dormant groups.
So I was shocked when he told me he'd resigned in April.
I was even more puzzled when he told me the reason: a 2013 policy, approved by the City Council, which bans civilians and volunteers from carrying weapons into secured areas at police buildings.
The action put into writing in the Civilian Personnel and Procedures Manual what had been informal policy at the agency. And it added language banning civilian employees and volunteers from carrying weapons in public while performing duties on behalf of the CSPD.
The rule applies to uniformed civilians, chaplains, downtown ambassadors and other volunteers including Moore.
And the rule upset Moore, who routinely carries a concealed weapon.
While he understands the reasons Chief Pete Carey enforced the rule, Moore believes he should be exempted from it.
"I've been carrying it at least seven years, and I have 40 years of military experience," Moore said.
He explained that the first thing he did every time he entered a police substation was to lock his weapon in a gun locker.
"He's saying I can't open the door, walk 2 feet and put my gun in a lock box?" Moore said.
And the idea of going out at night into neighborhoods with high crime rates without his concealed weapon also upset Moore.
I talked to Chief Carey, who said he was disappointed to lose Moore as a volunteer.
"I love Dennis," Carey said. "He's been one of our best ambassadors."
But he said he must enforce the rules consistently across the agency and its hundreds of civilian employees and volunteers.
"Our first priority is safety," Carey said. "We have 10 to 15 different police facilities. They don't all have lock boxes."
Carey worries, for example, what might happen if a suspect being escorted through a police station broke free and grabbed the gun of a volunteer or civilian employee.
"We just can't have guns on volunteers," Carey said. "I can't afford to have officers worrying about one more thing."
And if Moore feels unsafe when making a public presentation, Carey pledged to send a uniformed officer with him.
"Losing Dennis is a big deal," Carey said. "I feel bad about it. But I've got to hold my ground on guns in the police station."
Moore said he's not willing to compromise and surrender his weapon.
"I'm too old to put up with this nonsense and I won't," Moore said. "I don't need to volunteer."
But I suspect he'll miss his work as much as neighborhoods will miss Moore.
In fact, he's already taking speaking engagements on his own, as a private citizen.
"I talked about identity theft," Moore said. "I'm not going to stop trying to help people be safe."
That's why I call him Mr. Neighborhood Watch. Just wish I still called him at the CSPD.