The explosion of economic and cultural progress in Colorado Springs is based on confidence in the community's future. People have worked long and hard to make Colorado Springs great again.
It's time to focus on the police.
People who relocate businesses and families look for communities that provide good streets and fundamental services.
More than anything, those with options locate where they are likely to feel safe. For a city of its size, Colorado Springs has long enjoyed enviably low crime statistics.
The future safety and security of life in Colorado Springs cannot be taken for granted and is jeopardized by a troubling shortage of officers.
Police Chief Pete Carey spoke with a member of The Gazette's editorial board Monday and said the city remains understaffed by at least 50, and as many as 100 law enforcement officers. The attrition rate is high, as officers are often lured away by higher paying departments after gaining valuable experience in Colorado Springs. When we lose young officers to other cities, it means we invest in training for the long-term benefit of some other place.
The shortage drove the average police response time to more than 14 minutes last year. That's at least 6 minutes longer than the city's traditional response time of 8 minutes or less. Six minutes can easily be the difference between life and death, suspects caught or suspects roaming free to reoffend.
Last summer, Carey gutted the department's important gang task force to reassign highly trained officers to help with routine calls. The result has been a reduction in response times to about 11 minutes, which is still 3 agonizing minutes longer than what Carey considers the slowest acceptable average response. And we're left with no bureau to curtail the growth of gangs.
Carey also reinstated a recession-era policy of not responding to most property crimes, so the department can focus resources on calls involving threats to human life. He fears crime statistics are rising in multiple categories. With police resources stretched so thin, Carey worries about traffic safety, which led him to float the idea of restoring intersection cameras that issue traffic citations.
Here's the good news. Carey expects to hire 62 rookie officers next summer after they graduate from the city's police academy.
"The mayor (John Suthers) has been incredibly supportive and is doing everything he can to help address this problem," Carey said.
But this cannot be left entirely to the Mayor Suthers, Carey and the City Council. City government is playing a major game of catch-up to renovate the community's dilapidated stormwater infrastructure. Crews are working fast and furious to repair and upgrade streets. Money is tight.
Carey would like church leaders, teachers, school administrators, parents, military officers and youth mentors to help create a morepolice-friendly culture. He wants them to talk up law enforcement as an honorable and rewarding career.
"I like homegrown officers when I can get them," Carey told The Gazette. "I would particularly encourage the men and women who come out of Fort Carson to consider joining our force."
City government is working to fund more competitive pay in the department. The rest of the community should to strive to make Colorado Springs the most pro law enforcement city in the country. Let's make Colorado Springs the safest big city in the country by making it a great place to work as a cop.