A New Vision for CML
Co-written by Executive Director Sam Mamet and Legislative & Policy Advocate Meghan Dollar
Each year about this time, CML releases our State of Our Cities & Towns report, and this year we focus on public safety. Key takeaways include:
- Police and fire agencies are providing services with even greater efficiencies, most notably through numerous cost-sharing arrangements.
- Fire departments are focused more than ever on wildfire threats and mitigation.
- Fire mergers are becoming more evident.
- New technology, especially body cameras, continues to change policing.
These trends appear to be as relevant in large agencies as they are in smaller departments across the state. There does not seem to be any urban-rural divide.
One area in particular that jumps out at me is police recruitment.
A majority of cities and towns in Colorado are experiencing challenges in recruiting new officers. Seven out of 10 Colorado police departments report recruitment challenges, and in the larger cities that figure rises to 93 percent. Why?
The statewide survey conducted in 2017 found that in small- and mid-sized towns, the challenges are rural location and inadequate pay; larger cities face the issues of current public perceptions of police and the demands of shift work.
The survey clearly revealed that public perceptions are often at odds with the important work police officers perform every day to keep our communities safe. Different approaches to policing may help bridge that gap. Police departments across the state are accelerating the implementation of programs that better connect police officers with the community. Dedicated community policing programs have been adopted or are planned by three-quarters of police departments in the state. Community policing programs foster cooperation among police, residents, and businesses.
Sergeant Jim Creasy serves on Grand Junction’s Community Resource Unit, which works closely with businesses and residents in the downtown area. The local Downtown Development Authority helps fund the unit that combines school resource officers, neighborhood watch, and crime prevention through environmental design, homeless outreach, and dedicated patrol officers. One of the major accomplishments of the unit, according to Officer Creasy, is the personal contacts that result in “the public feeling comfortable coming to us.” The results in Grand Junction are impressive: the program has reduced police calls in the downtown area by 59 percent.
It is important that people understand what is actually happening during police interactions with the public, and a new tool - body cameras - provides some insight. The CML survey shows that half of Colorado’s police departments have adopted the use of body cameras. According to Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey, police officers have come to appreciate the cameras because they show what they are doing - following policies and laws. Additionally, he said that the video record can be used as evidence in prosecutions, for internal affairs investigations, and for training purposes. While the camera footage does not generally tell the whole story, they are effective in prosecuting cases and demonstrating officer behavior by showing much of what happened.
Public perception is more important than ever for our police officers. As Evans Police Officer Rob Wardlaw puts it: “The hardest part of being an officer for me right now is just watching the media, seeing the way we are portrayed, the way that a lot of officers are being attacked - physically and through the media. We are out trying to help people, trying to do our jobs. We are able to help people who can’t always help themselves, and that is important to me.”
I hope in some small way our report recognizes those numerous outstanding public servants in the public safety arena and the daily good work they do for our cities and towns. Your thoughts about this are always welcome and appreciated.