The city of Colorado Springs is stepping up its presence downtown — with more police, better focus on homeless services and the possibility of a police substation downtown on Tejon Street.
“It’s not finalized, but we’re really looking hard to have space downtown,” said Colorado Springs Police Commander Pat Rigdon. That would be in the Braxton Technologies building, 6 N. Tejon St., the offices owned by businessman Kevin O’Neil on the northwest corner of Tejon and Pikes Peak Avenue.
“We absolutely are in discussion about us giving them space in our building,” O’Neil said. “We’re just hoping to do the right thing.”
O’Neil is renovating space in the building for the police, which likely will be finished in four weeks.
“We are full steam ahead on all sides,” O’Neil said.
“We absolutely are in discussion about us giving them space in our building.”
– Kevin O’Neil,
Rigdon praised O’Neil for his generosity, saying, “If it works out, great; if it doesn’t, we’ll continue to look downtown.”
Business owners, managers and employees have expressed concerns about people panhandling, shoplifting and harassing them downtown. The space in front of 7-Eleven downtown, 3 N. Tejon, is of particular concern, said store owner Russ Mallery.
“The homeless just sit in front of the door,” Mallery said. “The front of my door seems to be the magnet for these homeless.”
Across Tejon, the Braxton building also is being renovated for The Gazette, the city’s daily newspaper, which plans to move into the building near the end of the year. Once The Gazette is settled, the police will look at the remaining space available there, Rigdon said.
But the police aren’t waiting – more police are already patrolling downtown, said Rigdon and O’Neil.
The number of police officers working downtown has doubled. Last week, two patrol officers were working different shifts between the hours of 7 a.m. through the day and night to 4 a.m.; now, there are four, Rigdon said.
The increased police presence is due to an outcry from the downtown business community – including a letter from 16 woman business owners to the city, complaining about people who loiter on the sidewalks, are intoxicated or belligerent, or aggressively ask for money. The location outside the 7-Eleven is a popular gathering place for the vagrants, some of whom use the flower beds to sleep.
Randy Case owns the building that houses 7-Eleven. Case has been involved in downtown Colorado Springs business since the 1970s, and he’s “seen it mature,” he said.
“Downtown is much more lively, so it’s a lot more appealing for people to go around begging for money,” Case said.
He emphasized the need to get information about services to the downtown people who might need specific things like food, housing or health care.
That’s the goal of Aimee Cox, senior economic vitality specialist with the city of Colorado Springs.
“My work is going to be ending the chronic homelessness downtown,” Cox said.
She also is trying to figure out how to coordinate the police presence with private security, hired with funds already pledged by several business owners downtown, including O’Neil.
“We have the issue of the chronically homeless folks who need services and assistance,” Cox said. “We want to be a safe community, we want to be a thriving community and we want to be a compassionate community.”
The city’s police force has a Homeless Outreach Team, known as HOT, made up of police officers who get to know the homeless and try to help them. Police recently increased the number of HOT officers from two to three, Rigdon said.
The HOT team should include a case worker, Cox said.
The city also has requested bids from iron fabricators to install wrought-iron fencing on the flower beds in front of 7-Eleven.
Wrought-iron fencing would protect the plants in three planters outside the convenience store, said Greg Warnke, parking enterprise administrator for the city.
Vagrants “use the flower bed for an ashtray and a trash can,” Warnke said.
“Small wrought-iron fencing would allow the plants a chance to live.”
The city is now just investigating the option of installing the fencing, so there is no budget for the project, he said.
“We really don’t know where the bids will come in at,” Warnke said.
But until those bids are in, people say the increased police presence is welcome and necessary.
“It’s wonderful already,” O’Neil said. “I got hit up twice today. Typically it’s seven to 10 times.”