At a public safety forum on Thursday, outgoing Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski, 4th Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen and other prominent Colorado Springs officials weighed in on public safety issues affecting the southeast part of the city and the United States in general.
Homicide rates, homelessness and illegal drugs were some of the issues that concerned people who attended the event, which was held at the Valley Hi Pub and Grill. In addition to the Chief of Police and District Attorney, El Paso County Deputy Sheriff Joe Roybal, Colorado Springs City Council President Tom Strand, and El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly, made up the five-person panel at the event.
Rachel Stovall, Republican candidate for Colorado House District 17 in southeast Colorado Springs, was prompted to create the event because of stories she heard from friends about crime and danger in the south -is. Hearing of incidents of indecent exposure, broken streetlights and shots being fired at a party, Stovall wanted to connect affected people in the community with those making the decisions.
“I just thought we should all be able to have access to the people we’re told are serving us in these areas, but we know the average person doesn’t have access,” Stovall said. “I wanted to organize an event like this to create that access.”
At the event, people wrote questions on index cards and handed them to a team of moderators who then selected the questions to ask the panel.
On the perception that southeast Colorado Springs is the most dangerous area, Chief Niski offered a rebuttal. The city is divided into four divisions by the Colorado Springs Police Department: northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast.
While the southern divisions are seeing more calls for duty, Niski said the southwest is actually seeing the most. He then pointed to homicide rates in which four such crimes were committed in the southeast last year, while 31 were committed in the southwest, part of a record 44 for the city in 2021.
Niski attributed the high number of homicides in the city to a lack of respect for life and each other, stressing the need for people to recognize that families on both sides are affected by crime. What is often forgotten is that the abuser’s family loses a loved one in prison.
“Two lives are lost. Not one,” he said.
According to Kelly, the main underlying problem in homicides is domestic violence. Allen added that the lethality of domestic violence has increased, likely in part because of the added stress on families caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Homelessness was another issue raised before the panel. Strand, citing the city’s homelessness prevention and response coordinator, Andrew Phelps, said that in a 2020 tally the number of homeless people was down and pointed to the homeless outreach program -fire department shelter as an excellent resource to help homeless people access services and housing.
Despite this, law enforcement and cleanups continue to increase each year, Strand said.
Over the past year, Strand said the city’s neighborhoods and services division has cleared more than a million pounds of trash for illegal homeless camps.
Niski said that over the years, and as the number of organizations promoting homelessness awareness grew, the police department focused on enforcing certain actions.
“Homelessness is not a law enforcement issue, it’s not. It’s just up to us to deal with it,” Niski said. “Homelessness is a community issue.”
Panel members were asked about the Colorado legislature’s 2019 decriminalization of illegal possession of fentanyl. House Bill 1263 made possession of 4 grams or less of schedule drugs 1 or 2 is a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony. Schedule 1 drugs include heroin, LSD, and psilocybin, while fentanyl is a schedule 2 drug.
Kelly said he began monitoring fentanyl-related deaths in the county after seeing an increase in substance-related deaths on the East Coast. The county has grown from four in 2017 to more than 100 in 2021, with the full count incomplete. He added that the age range of those who died has widened to include teenagers.
Allen pointed out how dangerous the drug can be, given that just two milligrams of fentanyl can prove deadly.
“The maximum sentence someone could go to jail for for possessing fentanyl is 364 days as of March 1 of this year,” he said. “And when we’re talking about a deadly drug like fentanyl, it’s way too low, it’s encouraging cartel activity by bringing in these counterfeit pills and it’s putting our whole community at risk.”
With all of these issues arising, a point of concern for the community was the lack of people willing to work in law enforcement at such a seemingly perilous time.
For Niski, the answer lies in finding proactive ways to impact crime. This means patrolling high-crime areas, pursuing prolific offenders, and using police forces and partnering with crime analysts who can tell the police what crimes to focus on, and who and where to focus on. focus.
Roybal said the sheriff’s office is taking a multi-agency approach to dealing with shortages by providing backup to Monument and Fountain police departments as needed.