In & Out Gyros was robbed three times, allegedly by the same person, in just two weeks.
It’s hardly in a remote area, with a prominent location at 36 E. Bijou St., but the mom-and-pop Mediterranean deli has had a hard time seeing its place secure.
“The cops don’t make me feel very safe, given that this is a pretty busy corner,” said the shop’s general manager, Carissa Pshenica.
Pshenica is the latest in a series of voices to call for more policing in downtown Colorado Springs. After months, even years, of discussing potential remedies for issues of homelessness, vagrancy, crime and grift, the Colorado Springs Police Department is preparing to invest more time and money in problems at the city’s core.
Periods of brainstorming and hopeful problem-solving resulted in the decision to create a centrally located police satellite office at one of the busiest and most troubled intersections in the city: the corner of Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue.
CSPD’s downtown satellite office is scheduled to open next month, said Gold Hill Division Commander Rafael Cintron.
It’s intended to address crimes often stoked by the area’s bars, back alleys and transient population.
“It isn’t a substation like the others,” he explained. “The satellite office will allow us to put resources downtown and make it more accessible to the officers in that area. … We are shooting for Aug. 15.”
The facility — incorrectly identified in earlier reports as a fully functioning substation — was initially expected to open by Aug. 1.
The office, which Cintron said will eventually house on-street access for passersby to report crimes and concerns, sits on a corner that has long been a pocket for trouble.
“The demand is still very much there, and we are eager to see that open up downtown,” said Susan Edmondson, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs. She said, on any given day, there are around 20,000 people in the downtown area, and that brings both positive and negative results.
“Any time there are that many people, your needs increase,” she said. “So, by sheer numbers, it stands to reason that there will be more challenges as well.”
The 2,000-square-foot space in the basement of 6 N. Tejon St. — an office building that also is home to Braxton Technologies, Vladimir Jones, The Gazette and the Melting Pot — was leased recently from owner Kevin O’Neil.
He said the deal was in the works for a year before the capital was raised to support the effort.
“When all is said and done, we will have put in $50,000 of our own capital” for the buildout, O’Neil said about his partnership with another area business he declined to name, adding that the city is paying $1,000 per month in rent for the leased space. “We tried to make it as free as possible. That’s just covering costs.”
The Downtown Development Authority, which will work with CSPD on various issues, funded $10,000 of the office buildout.
The collaboration to further secure downtown began with plans to invest in private security firms to “ward off the vagrant population,” according to previous reports by the Business Journal.
“We have them sleeping in front of our doors, sleeping in our stairwells. There’s human waste inside our loading bay almost every day,” O’Neil said last August.
And he says not much has changed.
“We hope that for us that this is a positive move,” O’Neil said. “I don’t believe we’ve really seen any change on the street.”
“I don’t believe we’ve really seen any change on the street.” – Kevin O’Neil
“I don’t believe we’ve really seen any change on the street.”
– Kevin O’Neil
Other attempts at downtown security have been implemented, including back-alley improvement efforts and the installation of 13 surveillance cameras by the city of Colorado Springs, mostly along Tejon Street.
But those efforts haven’t thwarted crimes such as the ones that Pschenica said have cost her In & Out Gyros more than $3,000 in losses.
After four broken glass doors and two stolen cash registers, she said she worries about what poor patrolling and increased response times could mean for the future of her close-knit community of downtown business folk.
“It has made us do a little bit more security,” she said. “But if he is breaking in multiple times for less than $100, what is stopping him from hurting someone or from targeting someone else?”
That is why CSPD chose to create more of a presence in downtown Colorado Springs, according to officials.
“We are definitely hoping to decrease response times and respond to situations downtown quicker,” said Cintron.
He said that downtown is the most active area currently under Gold Hill’s jurisdiction, producing 11,447 calls for service between April 1, 2013, and March 31 of this year.
“That is one of the reasons that we are dedicating more resources to that area … with more active policing and office space where our officers will be able to conduct investigations, perform paperwork and research,” he said.
Many problems seen by officers patrolling downtown are related to issues that surround vagrancy, according to former Gold Hill Commander Pat Rigdon. Such misdemeanors include public intoxication, public urination and other lewd acts.
Officers currently patrolling the downtown area have had to deal with processing incidents and arrests at the Gold Hill substation, located at 955 W. Moreno Ave. The two locations are roughly two miles and multiple stoplights apart, which makes for a 15-minute round trip for officers when they are required to report to the station.
The new facility will not include holding cells — it will consist merely of office space. However, Cintron said that CSPD would like to eventually incorporate a walk-up window for the downtown office at which passersby can quickly and easily report crimes.
He added that the office will be staffed by around 20 officers, all of whom currently patrol downtown. The office’s ultimate benefit won’t be increased numbers of personnel, but increased efficiency among them, he explained.
“This will allow us to handle them there rather than having to transport them to Gold Hill,” Cintron said.
As they have done until now, officers stationed at the downtown office will patrol the streets of the city’s core on foot and bicycle — with backup provided as needed.
Edmondson sees both the challenges and benefits of having officers patrolling the area on foot and bicycle. While personnel such as these tend to get to know the community in a more intimate way, it can always mean a larger challenge in responding quickly and efficiently.
She said that it is encouraging to see active partnerships developing in an effort to bring the community together and tackle these issues, but that much more work is yet to be done.
“There is quite a ways to go,” she said.