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Monday, February 11, 2019

New CSPD police chief says traffic deaths, adding officers, homeless are top challenges

Posted By on Mon, Feb 11, 2019 at 5:50 PM

click to enlarge Vince Niski - COURTESY CSPD
  • Courtesy CSPD
  • Vince Niski
Deputy Chief Vince Niski is expected to succeed Pete Carey as chief of the Colorado Springs Police Department (assuming if City Council approves). He says his biggest challenges in his new role will be curbing traffic fatalities, efficiently adding 120 police officers in the next four years and dealing with the growing homeless population.

Niski, chosen by Mayor John Suthers on Feb. 11, spent half of that day hosting 15-minute one-on-one interviews with the media in Suthers' office, with the mayor at his elbow.

Niski calls the city's 48 traffic fatalities  last year "unacceptable." He's considering options of education and enforcement "to get people to follow the rules of the road." He's assigned a group of officers and employees to look at traffic safety "to see how we can improve."

As for adding 120 officers, Niski, a 30-year veteran of the CSPD, says he has to figure out where the best place will be for those officers to serve. "Patrol is our main priority," he says, adding that there were other needs as well. The mayor noted that some specialized units that were shut down a couple of years ago in order to boost patrol forces could be reestablished, but he didn't elaborate.

Suthers and Niski both acknowledge the hiring process could take longer than four years, considering the department faces a high attrition rate. Just filling vacant positions over the next four years is expected to take more than 120 hires, let alone the 120 additional officers Niski aims to hire.

The communications center is another priority for Niski, who says the city's center fields 22,000 calls to 911 per month. He couldn't say how many of those calls go to hold, but plans to hire an outside consultant to review the center from top to bottom and pose solutions. Improvements in the call center, he says, will improve the department's response times. In the last few years, the department's response times to top-priority, life-threatening calls has been in the 11 to 13 minute range.

As for the homeless, Niski says he'll add an officer to the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) to better enforce city regulations about camping. The Sheriff's Office will add an officer as well.

"They will  help us actually resolve problems rather than moving the problem between the county and the city," Niski says.

Suthers notes that since the city now has ample low barrier shelter beds, when those are not full, police will write summonses to homeless people who are illegally camping. Under an initiative he expects to roll out within weeks, Suthers says people who wind up in the courts on such summonses will be assigned a "navigator" from one of the nonprofit homeless groups to make sure they're made aware of programs for drug and alcohol abuse, mental health, employment and housing.

click to enlarge Pete Carey is switching uniforms to undersheriff. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Pete Carey is switching uniforms to undersheriff.
Niski plans no change to the department's practice of shielding internal affairs reports (disciplinary files) about officers from the public. "It's important to keep that information confidential for the officers involved, for the witnesses and the complainants coming forward," Niski says. He adds such a policy encourages complaints and citizens who do file complaints are kept in the loop as to the outcome of the internal investigations.

A bill is currently pending in the Colorado Legislature that would loosen the grip on IA files. Suthers noted, "Whatever the law is, I assure you, as long as I'm mayor of Colorado Springs, we will comply with it."

Niski will add an employee to his public information office within two or three months to assist in responding to media and public questions.

Carey retired from the CSPD and began his job as undersheriff with El Paso County on Feb. 11.

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