Colorado Springs Illumination Project seeks to bring cops, citizens together 

click to enlarge Springs Police Chief Pete Carey’s department wants to hear from citizens. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Springs Police Chief Pete Carey’s department wants to hear from citizens.
Copying an initiative undertaken in Charleston, South Carolina, the Colorado Springs Police Department and the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) will partner to hold a series of meetings aiming to bolster cops’ relationship with the community.

The effort, which will span the rest of this year, is called the Colorado Springs Illumination Project with the goal of finding ways to “deepen trust and proactively address potential challenges,” the CSPD said in a release.

“Truly, this is for us to come together and listen to each other and try to do whatever we can to make our community better,” Police Commander Adrian Vasquez tells the Independent. “That’s what community-based policing is all about.”

In Charleston, Police Chief Greg Mullen launched the Illumination Project after witnessing his community’s response to the June 17, 2015, shooting deaths of nine parishioners at historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by racist Dylann Roof, who’s since been convicted and sentenced to death.

In a letter to his community, Mullen wrote in September 2016 that in the 12 days after the shooting, he marveled at the “grace, forgiveness, and unity” among citizens. “This horrific night changed the landscape of Charleston forever and it changed me,” he wrote, noting he wanted to “seize upon the momentum and strong relationships demonstrated between citizens and police that were manifested during this tragedy.” That year-long effort led to developing respectful and trusting relationships between citizens and police, an increased understanding of different cultures, and creating a training method to help police and citizens understand one another better.

Vasquez says no specific incident sparked the local project, which sprang from the CCL’s mandate for community outreach.

“The goal of the project is that we listen to the citizens of our community for the stressors that are here,” he says. One session will be held at Atlas Prep School near Sand Creek Police Substation “so we can understand what our kids are going through,” Vasquez says. Other meetings will be scattered throughout the city.

Outreach will take place with the Hispanic community, homeless people and others who might feel marginalized, he says. “I think any relationship can be strengthened,” he says. “The discussions we have are sometimes based on polarity thinking. The idea behind me trying to understand the stressors of a homeless community or people of color — I need to hear that from them.”

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the policy that allowed children brought there by their families to remain and live as citizens, also could become part of the conversation. Vasquez acknowledged some people might view interfacing with police as risky, but added, “That [arrests] is not what this is about.”

CCL will document all listening sessions, which will include officer participation, Vasquez says. “Part of the goal is to get citizens to interact with officers in a positive pattern,” he says, “understanding there could be some difficult conversations.”

All materials will be posted on the CSPD website. The first meeting will be held March 19 at Grace Be Unto You Outreach Church, 3195 Airport Road. A time was not announced.

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