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Not as bad as it looks 

Police Chief Myers dismisses tensions with City Council, points to progress in department

click to enlarge Police Chief Richard Myers has had a hectic first year. - COLORADO SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT

Watch City Council meetings?

(Really?)

If so, you may have noticed that when Police Chief Richard Myers takes the podium, a hurricane of criticism moves in.

According to Council members, the reorganization plan Myers presented in July was ill-conceived because it cut middle management, got rid of neighborhood resource officers (who commonly worked with neighborhood watch leaders), and simply wasn't needed.

Council members later suggested the chief's budgetary proposals, which included cutting out police helicopters and closing police substations at night, put the public in danger.

Combine that with police clashing with peace protesters, and a high number of homicides in 2007, and it adds up to a rough first year on the job for Myers, who was recruited from little Appleton, Wis.

Myers, however, quickly shrugs off any idea that his relationship with Council is strained.

"Some of my top command staff have lamented to me, "Gee, you never got a honeymoon,'" he says. "And I think that's accurate, but I don't mourn that fact in any way, because you don't sign on to this job to have it easy. You don't take a position, a challenging, responsible position like this, to enjoy coasting for as long as you can until something big hits. You dive right in."

At the same time, Myers jokes, he's glad his new boss, City Manager Penny Culbreth-Graft, will become the "new kid in town."

Council supportive

The pressure on Myers may already be easing. Vice Mayor Larry Small refers to Myers as "one of my personal heroes." And he means it.

"I think he's doing a good job so far," Small says. "I think he's really sincere about what he's doing. He's a real professional."

Councilwoman Jan Martin says she's open to Myers' ideas and enjoys working with him. She wishes Council would cut back on the hand-slapping, saying that's not her management style.

"When other staff people see someone treated harshly in front of Council, that filters throughout entire city staff and might keep them from coming forward and being as honest as we'd like them to be," she says.

And Councilman Randy Purvis says he'll give the chief a few years to prove himself.

"I think it's going to be crucial, how he goes about meeting the goals," Purvis says.

Whatever the appearances in public meetings, Myers says he is creating positive change. He's making the department more efficient, maximizing patrols and making cuts that do the least harm.

He says he doesn't relish trimming his budget. He didn't want to cut neighborhood resource officers. But, he says, the program already was gutted by budget cuts and was too small to be effective.

He also didn't want to ground helicopters or close substations, but something had to go. More than 90 percent of the police budget is tied up in personnel costs.

"There's kind of a long line of programs lying in the wake that have fallen on the wayside because of inadequate resources," he says, "and I would argue that most of them were effective, good programs that were no doubt very painful to reduce or eliminate."

Preserving programs

Whenever possible, Myers says he prefers to look for ways to create a tighter department without lopping off programs. That was the impetus behind the reorganization plan. He says bringing similar units located in different districts under the same leadership as he did with motorcycle police, school resource officers, analysts and information services is one of his most successful initiatives.

He's heard that motorcycle cops now respond more quickly to complaints. School resource officers have uniform duties. Analysts don't unwittingly duplicate work.

"There's light bulbs going off, saying we're sharing ideas better than we ever did before," he says.

Information services may provide the most dramatic example.

Since the reorganization, the department has had a host of technology upgrades, plus new wireless access in police cruisers. Now cops are producing instant virtual lineups for witnesses and using Google Earth to find houses in newly built areas.

Police even used wireless during the New Life shooting in December, pulling up a map of the church that helped witnesses precisely identify where they were and what they saw.

The reorganization plan also established COMMIT (Community Impact Teams) teams, which hone in on habitual criminals and link patrol and investigations. Though recently scaled back, the teams have shown they can work. COMMIT team officers helped pinpoint the suspect for the Alumni Bar shooting on Jan. 19, in which police say both shooter and victim were gang members.

Myers isn't out of ideas. He says he'd love to hire "community service officers" essentially unsworn, unarmed, low-paid interns who perform menial work (like directing traffic around an accident), to free up patrol officers.

Myers says he isn't afraid that City Council would shoot down the idea. He just knows there isn't any money for it right now.

"There's a difference," he says, "between having the room to do things and having the resources to do things."

stanley@csindy.com

  • The pressure on Colorado Springs' new police chief may already be easing.

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