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As violent crime rises in Colorado, Governor Polis unveils new public safety plan

Governor Polis Public Safety Presser
Posted at 2:39 PM, Feb 10, 2022

DENVER — Governor Polis, flanked by a number of state representatives and public safety officials, released his new public safety plan for Colorado Thursday afternoon.

The package of legislation Colorado Democrats are proposing would spend roughly $113 million primarily through grant programs to local communities.

"We're meeting the challenge of rising crime head-on and investing in Colorado-focused, locally-driven solutions that are based on data of what works and what will improve public safety," Polis said.

One of the prime sponsors for the legislation, State Rep. Janet Buckner of Aurora, explained that Senate Bill 1 sets aside money for grants to help communities pay for infrastructure upgrades in crime-prone areas.

"Which will help reduce crime and reduce the perception of crime in areas that are considered easy targets or unwatched," Rep. Buckner explained.

Another bill sponsored by State. Rep. Tony Exum from Colorado Springs would make grant funding available to school districts to help with school security programs and threat assessment training to help prevent unauthorized people from entering schools.

One of the grant-funded programs the speakers showed the most interest in is the co-responder model of law enforcement where mental health professionals are teamed up with officers.

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons shared results of the System-wide Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART) program in his community.

In its first year of implementation, the co-responder teams received 952 calls for service, made 1,000 mental health assessments, and resulted in no use of force or arrests. FitzSimons estimates the program has saved his office $17 million.

"I don't just share this because I want to tout the success of this program, although I'm happy to do that, it's because this program works in Summit County and it can work in other communities across our state as well," he said.

The legislative action plan comes after a historically violent year around Colorado, including here at home in Southern Colorado.

In total, there were just over 30,000 cases of violent crime in 2021. Crimes that fall under the violent crime classification are murder, non-consensual sexual offenses, assault, and robbery.

There were nearly 3,000 more cases of violent crime than in 2020, and close to 5,000 more than in 2019 and 2018.

In Colorado Springs, it was the homicide rate that made headlines all year, and that increase has continued into 2022, with 8 homicides recorded in just over a month after 43 homicides in 2021. In 2020, according to FBI data, there were 36 homicides.

While 2020 was a year marked by calls for defunding the police from around the country, that did not happen in Colorado Springs. The Colorado Springs Police Department saw a slight increase in funding, from over $133 million to over $135 million, which is up over $22 million since 2018.

However, as reported by News5's Patrick Nelson earlier this week, CSPD is encountering staffing shortages.

CSPD Recruiting Officer Ruselis Perry said that these staffing shortages are due in part to people being "afraid of the scrutiny... the risk.. (and) the liability." Currently, the City is down 84 patrol officers.

One of the proposed bills would allocate grant funds for local law enforcement agencies to assist with recruiting and retention.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle emphasized the impact of workforce shortages facing law enforcement.

"We've had record numbers of resignations and retirements from policing," Pelle said. "This is not just a Colorado issue. It's across the country."

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, a Republican, also shared support for the legislation in a statement provided by the governor's staff.

"Colorado has significant crime and public safety challenges, and while this legislative package won't solve many of the challenges we face, it's a step in the right direction," Suthers said. "The pendulum needs to swing back to much greater emphasis on the safety and security of our citizens."

Governor Polis explained that the recruitment and retention grants are intended to be flexible based on community needs.

"In one department it might mean retention bonuses. In another, it might mean recruitment. In another, it might mean being able to fill hard-to-fill positions in certain areas," Polis said.

"A key element of this is what works in Fort Morgan isn't necessarily what works in Colorado Springs or what works in Denver."

Senate Republicans criticized the proposal as an attempt, "to try to save face." Spokesman Sage Naumann pointed out many of the lawmakers taking part in the news conference also stood in solidarity with protestors during the civil unrest against police brutality in 2020.

The capitol building was vandalized and Senate President Leroy Garcia's truck was destroyed during the protests.

"They stood in solidarity with those that were attacking the building, they didn't tell them to stand down, they didn't tell them to go home," Naumann said.

He added that the $113 million proposal is not nearly enough to address the staffing shortages in law enforcement.

"In the Governor's budget request, he's asking for $150 million for electric school buses. This entire package, this entire public safety package, this whole thing they put on is $113 million, and less than 10 percent of that is actually for recruiting and retaining police officers," Naumann said.

This article was updated to add quotes and detail about the proposed legislation, as well as a response from critics.
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