Many of us probably have an idea of what a kid would say if you asked him or her “What do you want for Christmas?” I have an image of a long list being rattled off of every cool, new toy that flashes by in TV commercials or is nicely displayed on store shelves. Kids are kids, after all. But just like every other stereotype, there are always exceptions, and in the case of this year’s annual Shop With a Cop, our officers witnessed about a dozen of those exceptions.
Shop With a Cop is an annual outreach we organize that gives deserving kids from our community a chance to go shopping for a day and spend money and gift cards that have been donated for the event. This year in particular the stores at Mesa Mall really stepped up to give the kids some nice gifts and quite a bit of spending money. So, you might think the kids went hog-wild picking out anything they wanted for themselves. Nope. They went hog-wild all right, but it was shopping for my brother, or my mom, or papa, or mammy. Our youngest shopper, a six-year-old, even came ready with a list of every
person in her family she wanted to cover, including the family dog. Most of the kids had to be reminded that it was ok to pick out a couple of things for themselves too.
The local TV stations did a great job covering this event, as they do every year. Both KKCO and KREX posted their coverage on their websites. When you listen to the kids you can hear a combination of excitement and gratitude mixed with a dash of awe over what they experienced. They truly were an amazing group, one that embodied the true spirit of Christmas, and all of us from the GJPD feel lucky we had the chance to be part of it.
Here’s the complete list of sponsors for this year’s Shop With a Cop. Thanks for your generosity!
- Grand Junction Peace Officers Association
- Mesa Mall
- Hot Topic
- No Fear
- JC Penney
- Select Comfort
- Sports Authority
- JB Robinson Jewelers
- Snack Shack
- Pretzel Maker/ TCBY
- Kay Jewelers
- Enstrom’s Candies
- Cost Cutters
- Chuck E. Cheese
- McClane Canyon Mine
- School District 51 employees
For more pictures of Shop With a Cop 2010, visit us on Facebook.
It’s an incredibly polarizing topic of discussion in our city: What should be done about the homeless problem? There are valid arguments on both sides, and as a police department, we are very familiar with those arguments as we often bear the brunt of harsh criticism from both sides of the debate.
There are some in our community that think our department simply doesn’t do enough to help people living on the streets or down by the river. They often tell us we should stop issuing tickets to people who can’t afford to pay them anyway. Some critics go as far to say that all we do is harass the people who stand on the street corners holding signs or hang out in City parks.
The criticism can be just as strong from the other side; from those who think police departments shouldn’t be in the business of using tax payer money to help out “the local bums.” From this crowd we’re frequently told that the homeless and transient population already gets away with too much, from illegal camping to ruining our parks. The words “bleeding hearts” and “caving to political correctness” pop up frequently from this side.
So what’s a police department to do? The answer is simple: do what’s right. And that is what is shaping the decision to reassign 3 officers to create a team that will deal with an issue that both sides of the debate will agree is only getting worse. This isn’t about finding middle ground, it’s about trying to tackle a problem that is a drain on our already tight resources, a problem that is of a great concern to people in our community regardless of what side they are on, and a problem that is a public safety issue for those who are homeless.
In our search for a solution we learned about the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) the Colorado Springs Police Department put together, which reduced their calls for service related to the homeless by 60% in about 18 months. Colorado Springs Police Chief Richard Myers has a great quote: “You can’t arrest your way out of the homeless issue.” He’s right. That’s not to say we won’t enforce the law just because someone is homeless. It means if there’s a better solution with a long term impact that writing a ticket wouldn’t have, let’s do it. That way our officers won’t be back in a week, or a day, or sometimes even within the hour dealing with the exact same person for the exact same issue, which is what often happens now. However, if someone needs to go to jail, they’re going to jail. This isn’t about officers turning a blind eye when a homeless person breaks the law- it’s about finding real solutions to the problems.
One of the biggest reasons for the success of the HOT program in Colorado Springs is that it brought together all of the people who deal with the homeless issue in that community in one way or another; from charities and non-profits to government run service agencies to law enforcement and emergency medical services. All of these groups had the same mission of reducing homelessness, but they often worked independently instead of as a team. Once the police officers knew which places offered what kind of help, they could act as liaisons for the homeless in getting them the help they needed. The more people who get the help they need the fewer people we have to deal with as police officers and voila! – the problem is reduced.
So what can these officers do that they’re not doing already? We’re still working on that answer as we figure out exactly what our program will involve. Certainly the Colorado Springs Police Department’s plan has some intriguing elements. For example, their HOT officers have successfully reunited homeless people with family members that agree to help them get back on their feet. The officers also worked with their city leaders to “develop and implement an enforceable No Camping Ordinance.” Instead of living next to recreational trails and other places where they are not wanted, the HOT officers used their strong connections with homeless service providers to get the people into better housing or shelters. We will take into account all of the tips we picked up from our research of the Colorado Springs model as we develop one that will work for Grand Junction.
One thing we hoped would happen, and we’re already seeing evidence of it, is that we may be able to use this team to help solve some major crimes. We had our first example this week, when our detectives were handed information about a serious assault that recently happened. The detectives first looked at the case on Tuesday and solicited help from the three officers who will eventually make up our homeless outreach team. This unit doesn’t officially start until January and we don’t even have a name for them yet but they are already starting to build connections and relationships with some of our local homeless people. The three officers were able to work their way through the camps on the river talking to anybody they came across, which resulted in the officers being able to identify several potential witnesses. The detectives working the case talked with the witnesses and were able to identify a suspect by Wednesday afternoon. Before the detectives could finish writing up a warrant the homeless outreach officers found the suspect and arrested him on probable cause. This is exactly why we are forming this unit. The nature of our jobs requires our officers to have direct contact with the homeless people in the camps along the river, and by building relationships and connections with them we can work on reducing homelessness in our community while at the same time solving some major crimes.
There’s something that’s important to note here: this is not THE solution to the homeless problem in Grand Junction, nor is it THE answer that will completely satisfy people on both sides of this fiery debate. There’s also the fact that some people simply don’t want to be helped, and there is likely little we’ll be able to do about that. But we do believe this is the exact kind of out-of-the-box thinking that will hopefully get us on a path toward reducing the homeless problem in Grand Junction, and that’s something both sides can agree is the right thing to do.
A couple of weeks ago KKCO reporter Tim Ciesco approached us and the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office about doing a news story on the issues surrounding officers’ “use of force.” What he was looking for was “what officers evaluate when they consider using force” and what their options are. I’m hoping what Tim came away with, which based on the story he aired I’m confident he did, was how quickly that evaluation process has to be done. In a lot of incidents officers face, we’re talking seconds.
The buzz around the police department is that Tim did a good job of giving the public an idea of some of the things officers face when they respond to calls, especially when he had to try to explain a very complex issue in the amount of time he was allotted. And given the newscast is only a half hour, we knew Tim couldn’t include every single piece of information we gave him that day. In fact, we couldn’t even get to everything in this blog if we tried. Think of it this way: new recruits at the Western Colorado Peace Officers Academy go through approximately 175 hours of training on various use of force issues before they can even graduate. At the GJPD, all police officers are required to complete monthly trainings on a number of topics, and use of force issues are included in about 40 hours of that training spread out through the year.
So here are some other tidbits of information most people don’t realize when they hear about an officer having to use force when dealing with an incident:
- A 2008 FBI report indicated 58,792 officers were assaulted while on duty.
- The FBI also reports 48 officers across the country were feloniously killed in 2009. The FBI broke that number into some interesting statistics.
- 941 of the assaults wre committed by an edged weapon, such as a knife.
- According to a study done in the late 90s conducted by Thomas Hontz and Ray Rheingans it took an average of 2 seconds for a person to cover a distance of 30 feet, while the average speed of an officer to access, draw, acquire the target, and fire was 2.06 seconds. That means a person can be nearly 30 feet away and still have time to get to an officer before the officer has time to determine which weapon to use and deploy it.
- According to the FBI “there is sufficient oxygen within the brain to support full, voluntary action for 10 to 15 seconds after the heart has been destroyed.” That means even though a person has been shot in the heart, that person may still be able to come at you for up to 15 seconds. Grab your watch and see how long it actually takes for 15 seconds to tick by.
That takes me back to the earlier comment that I’m pretty sure Tim has a good understanding of how quickly an incident can play out. We used some of the above statistics and put him, as well as three of our officers with varying years of experience, through a realistic scenario. Tim was given everything the officers have on their duty belt and was told to respond to do a welfare check on a man who was sitting in the park. That’s very representative of the types of calls our officers receive. What Tim and the officers didn’t know is the man was armed with a knife. Tim’s story has a few video clips of how he and our officers handled the situation. Here are some photos of the result of the knife attack on Tim (don’t worry, the red stuff is just lipstick we put on the fake knife so we could see where it struck him).
It should also be noted, although I don’t have photos to show you, that the three officers who went through this scenario with the exact same amount of information Tim had also received “cuts” from the knife, even though they fired their guns and likely “shot” the suspect. That means had this been real, the suspect may or may not have been killed, but the officers still would likely have received injuries of various degrees in the process. Just some food for thought.
“Grand Junction is a nice community and I would like to keep it that way! By being on the Volunteer Patrol I can do my part.” – Jim Peterson, GJPD Volunteer Patrol
Like a lot of Grand Junctionites, we here at the GJPD feel very fortunate to live in a great community. One of the biggest components of our community that makes it great is the people; generous folks who are willing to give their time and resources. The GJPD experiences this generosity each and every time one of our 60 volunteers walks through our doors.
Our good fortune is your good fortune. Thanks to our volunteers and a grant from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, we are launching our new Volunteer Patrol program. Ten of our 60 volunteers have been selected to participate and have completed training both in the classroom and behind the wheel. Their job: be extra eyes and ears for the police officers who are working to keep your streets safe. The Volunteer Patrol will help with vacation checks, surveillance, and some traffic control. More duties will be added as the program progresses, and all of the time the volunteers donate gives our police officers more time to focus on higher priority areas and incidents.
If you would like to have the Volunteer Patrol do vacation checks on your home when you’re away please call the GJPD at 970-244-3555 to schedule.
Interesting Statistic: Nationwide in 2009 police service volunteers logged 8.1 billion hours, resulting in $169- billion in savings.
When you ask someone what a person who works for the police department does, you’ll likely get a response of “they arrest people” or “they write tickets.” We can’t argue with that. But, with 180 employees within the Grand Junction Police Department, both civilian and sworn, there are many folks here who do amazing things for our community and our police department- beyond just making arrests or issuing tickets. We want you to know about some of these people. We hope you’ll enjoy this insight into some of the work being done as we answer “What Else Do They Do?”
“One of the main things in life is to help each other.” -Steve Gomez
People don’t often think about the amount of personnel that it takes to keep a police station running efficiently on all cylinders. Although he’s officially assigned to the Facilities Department within the City of Grand Junction, we here at the Police Department feel Steve Gomez is one of us because of all of the hard work he puts into our building as the custodian. This particular “What else do they do?” highlights the random acts of kindness Steve has made a frequent occurrence within the walls of the Department, from making sure people make it safely to their vehicles to buying dinner for hungry children while an incident is being worked.
“Maybe they’ll see this act and pass it on,” says Gomez.
Numerous employees at the GJPD can share stories about Steve. One particular occasion where these events stood out was when an officer was dealing with an incident while the witnesses, victims, and their families patiently waited in the police department lobby. There were several young children with them and the evening was dragging on. The children were not only tired, but they were hungry too. Without being asked, Gomez took it upon himself to buy food for the hungry families.
“(The kids) see these things and they never forget it,” explains Gomez, referring to someone doing something nice for them.
This isn’t the first time that Gomez has taken money from his own pocket to pay for meals for people waiting in the lobby.
“I just think, I’ve got the money right now, and I just go do it,” he says.
When asked about such random acts of kindness like these, Gomez just smiles shyly and says, “I don’t like talking about myself.” He doesn’t do these things in search of recognition, making his true kindness and willingness to help others truly commendable. Here are some other highlights of Steve’s career:
- Has been working with the City for 7 years
- Is also the custodian for Fire Station 1, but frequently helps with other areas of the City too
Other things Steve has said:
“One of the main things in life is to help each other.”
“I thought it would be different working here. People would say ‘That’s the police department!’ But everyone here is so nice.”
“It’s sad to see little kids who are hungry.”
Whether it’s the national statistics you’re looking at, or just what’s happening right here at home, the issues surrounding kids running away from home are frightening.National Statistics:
- 2.8 million teens run away from home each year
- 1.6 million teens slept on the street in the past 12 months
- Most are between the ages of 15 and 17
- 1 in 3 will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of running
- The GJPD handled 230 runaway cases in 2009
- 36 of those were habitual runners
- The youngest runner so far this year was 12 years old
- Female runners often become victims of sexual assault or are caught with sex offenders
There are a number of reasons they run, ranging from issues at school, family problems, abuse, threats to their safety, and drug and alcohol abuse. There is only one thing they and their families need: help.
November is National Runaway Prevention Month, and the GJPD is using this occasion to bring awareness to these troubling statistics and provide support for our local kids. You can do the same, and it won’t cost you much more than a few minutes of your time.
- Get your kids involved and be a part of the GJPD Runaway Prevention Photo Contest. From November 1st through the 26th students in grades K-12 can submit photos that show how to prevent kids from running away. The photos will be displayed in the lobby and judged by GJPD employees. Winners will receive a prize. Non-returnable photos can be dropped off at the GJPD at 625 Ute Ave. Photos should be no larger than 8×10.
- Physically show your support by participating in the national Green Light Project and shine a green light at your home or business. Grand Junction City Hall will be doing this for the entire month starting this week.
- Learn about the wealth of resources available by stopping by the GJPD to pick up some brochures or by visiting our website. You can find a list of activities there and hear what several runaways have to say by watching a short but powerful video.
- Spread the word about a 24 hour national hotline available to both parents and kids: 1-800-RUNAWAY
Kids don’t belong on the streets. Even if they think they can cut it on their own they are still kids. We’ll do our part and continue working with runners, their families, and other local agencies to get them the help they need. We hope you will do what you can as well.