The One Community Safer Together committee, which is backing a proposed public safety sales tax (Ballot Measure 2A) hosted a town hall last night at the Colorado Mesa University Montrose campus to inform and answer questions from community members.
The presentation at 6 p.m. was the second of the day. The first was held at noon, and both had relatively low citizen turnout.
The Public Safety Sales Tax will be on the November ballot and asks for a sales tax increase of 58 cents for every 100 dollars spent to help pay for more officers and a new police station. Funding from the city’s general fund will continue; the sales tax, if approved, would supplement the general fund allotment to the police department, not replace it.
Montrose Police Chief Blaine Hall, who made clear he was on vacation time and off-duty, gave a presentation on the need for funding alongside committee members also present for the presentation. Mayor Dave Bowman was also at the presentation.
One of the first questions raised following the presentation had to do with the addition of more full-time school safety officers in Montrose.
“The increase in funding would allow for one full-time high school safety officer at Montrose High School, Centennial Middle School, Columbine Middle School and one officer for the elementary and charter schools,” said Hall. “Currently there is one officer covering Montrose High School and one officer covering Centennial and Columbine with both covering elementary and vista schools when they can.”
Kori Zapletal, head of the Montrose Public Defender’s Office also raised a question about the number of police officers set to respond to an emergency call.
“One thing I’ve noticed in my professional capacity is that the number of officers that respond to a call on average ranges anywhere from three to four officers to eight,” said Zapletal. “I was wondering if you, one, have a way to track that or if you have particular guidelines about that, and when it comes to budgeting is that something where we track the cost.”
Hall said that, ultimately, the answer was “no.” He said there isn’t a way to track the cost versus the time, versus the number of officers that respond to a scene and there aren’t specific guidelines that say how many officers are needed for certain crimes, he said.
“Law enforcement is so dynamic and you never know what can occur,” said Hall. “It really is an individual choice.”
Zapletal also asked about one of the listed future stressors on the city-appointed citizen public safety committee’s report about low bonds for lower jail time. She wanted to understand where the information in the report came from.
“I can tell you something we presented as a stressor for the police department,” said Hall. “We have one individual right now that has, and continually, commits high-profile crimes and is almost immediately released on a low bond. We’ve continually asked for a higher bond because he is a community safety risk, but he gets out and commits more crimes. So that is something we present to the public safety committee.”
The sales tax increase would also support a public safety attorney to start looking at civil remedies for situations like a drug house that is causing distress in a neighborhood, said Hall.
Zapletal asked for clarification on the role and duties of the public safety attorney and how they would be litigating to get rid of drug dealers.
“We haven’t fully structured the position of the public safety attorney,” said Hall. “If we have a high profile case then maybe that Public Safety Attorney can become a special prosecutor. Or they could be used to help the District Attorney’s office, that is something that we would explore.”
The city currently funds the MPD with a general fund allotment that has increased every year, but currently doesn’t meet the needs. If the sales tax increase is approved in November, it would add additional funds on top of the general fund allotment. It would not serve as a replacement for it, according to the city. The ballot language also states the city must continue to supply general fund money.
Hall said part of the sales tax will help provide funding for three more officers, bringing the total number of officers to 14, with six civilian positions. The addition of three police officers, according to Hall, would allow for officers to work 10 hour shifts instead of trying to provide adequate coverage in 12 hour shifts with fewer officers.
Hall explained that the funding would also help support an increase in detective staffing, more full time school officers, a civilian to provide help with intel and analytics, a three officer proactive street crimes unit, a public safety attorney, traffic and park safety support and civilians to assist with records and reports.
“We keep saying that Montrose will change, but Montrose has changed,” said Hall. “And it’s affecting our community. We can debate it, but we’re responsible for our own community and we’re not getting help. Think about this and what we’re trying to do and protect.”
Emily Ayers is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.