Traffic-ticket quotas are history, and cops who staff several specialized units will be shifted to the streets under a plan announced by Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey last week.
Carey acknowledged that "staffing shortages in the Patrol Bureau have reached a critical level," and said in a prepared message that his changes will add 30 officers to patrol. New recruit classes already in the works will add another 88 officers in the coming months.
"I want to see that we have more officers available to cover each other on calls," he wrote in a Sept. 15 release, three weeks after the Independent reported the CSPD has seen surging crime rates, a shortage of patrol officers on the streets and a 13.5-minute average response time to top-priority calls, the slowest recorded in at least a decade.
The Indy's reporting was based on a mid-year CSPD crime report the Indy obtained through alternative means after the city refused to release it. The Indy also reported that workload was a top concern among members of the Colorado Springs Police Protective Association, according to a June survey and officers who spoke on condition of anonymity. The officers reported patrol ranks are so thin there's rarely backup, and they often show up for calls hours late.
Carey declined the Indy's request for an interview about the crime report in August, but seems to address many issues raised by officers and the data in his Sept. 15 statement.
For example, he notes that the Patrol Bureau's response to citizens' calls for service "is the most essential and time critical component of police service delivery to our community."
The Indy's report cited an expert in law enforcement staffing, who called patrol "the backbone" of a police department and said 60 percent of a department's sworn officers should be assigned to patrol. At CSPD, it's 38 percent — lower than five years ago when Carey became chief. Carey's changes will add a total of 118 officers by early next year and bring the percentage on patrol to about 55 percent.
While Carey notes 135 officers have been hired in the past two years, he adds, "We continue to struggle to keep pace with the number of retirements and resignations." Since 2011, the CSPD has lost 109 officers to retirement and 114 to resignations. The departures have grown from 23 in 2011 to 54 last year. Through August 2016, 35 had bailed.
Among Carey's changes:
• Starting immediately, officers won't be under a traffic-ticket quota system.
• Starting Sunday, Community Impact Team officers and Gang Unit officers returned to patrol.
• Starting Jan. 1, officers now assigned to traffic accident investigation will return to patrol assignments; Motor Unit officers will split their time between traffic enforcement and crash investigations to support patrol, and DUI officers and their sergeant will shift to patrol rather than operations support.
Carey also promised to "work harder at communicating" with personnel, saying he'll write a series of "Chief's Corner" articles to explain the changes and detail staffing and budgeting issues.
Meanwhile, Mayor John Suthers may be brainstorming about how to give police a bigger budget. He has said taxpayers don't want to pay higher taxes for public safety, but perhaps they'll swallow a stormwater management fee. That would free up money to pay for more cops. At least, that's the buzz around City Hall, reports City Councilor Bill Murray.