DA Proposal Goes Public Just Days Before Police Chief Luis Velez’s Pending Defends of His Job to Council January 25 to Respond to the Union Survey in Which Police Officers Say 95% Would Give Him a Vote of No Confidence.
By Jenny Paulson / Southern Colorado Independent Magazine
District Attorney Jeff Chostner told Pueblo City Council last night that he is drafting a proposed ordinance for the next ballot for citizens to decide if there should be a half-cent sales tax for public safety and his office for the next ten years. Police Chief Luis Velez had said in a written response to the 95% vote of no confidence released in early January that he was going to ask Council for a ballot item, which Chostner reportedly began drafting at the Chief’s request. Chostner was a former Councilman and County Commissioner before he became District Attorney. He announced in July that he will be seeking a second term and will be on the November 2016 ballot himself with the proposed ordinance if Council agrees to it.
Chostner told Council that the proposed tax would fund from 30-50 more police officers and additional staff in the DA’s office. He estimated that the tax would bring in 6-1/2 to 7 million per year in revenue, proposed to be used for new staff, training and police equipment, with $250-500,000 reserved for the hiring of 4-6 more deputy district attorneys. He said that his office has twice the number of cases as of five years ago already and if more cops are hired it will put further strain on his already overloaded office. He said at first he drafted that the tax be approved for five years, then he changed the proposal to ten years to allow for additional time to fully staff the police department.
The DA said he is active in the community and goes to Human Relations Commissions meetings and community forums where the consensus seems to be that there is no greater issue on the public’s mind right now than public safety. “I think the public wants this,” he said. Councilman Larry Atencio questioned Chostner, saying that voters have turned down public safety funding proposals for two years in a row, one from the police and fire unions and the other from the sheriff proposing a safety tax for a new jail. But Chostner said he thinks the public in a revised proposal will pass. He says what the public wants most is beginning to realize that to have a faster response time, they need more more officers. He said he is modeling his ordinance after successful models in El Paso and Freemont Counties, where such ballot items passed. “I think the public has had enough on public safety issues.”
Councilwoman Lori Winner asked about recent reports in which Chief Velez stated that crime in Pueblo is down, saying there appears to be conflicting reports. Chostner said poeple did misread a recent article in the Chieftain and said that in comparisons with the rest of the state, Pueblo is one of the highest in crime statistics. “Regardness of how high or low crime is, we need more cops on the street. We are out manned and out resourced. There is still a significant problem.
Councilman Chris Nicholl said that the City has Charter issues and that he has ideas for funding more officers without a tax increase, but did not expand on how. A local citizen group, Pueblo Reform, has written legislation that the City Attorney Dan Kogosvek approved in July of 2016 which would mandate that the state average for police officers be met over a five year period by the City without a tax increase. The reform group says that the City has misappropriated funds, failed to set priorities and can adjust the budget to hire more officers. The group is in a legal dispute with the City and says that Kogosvek and City Clerk Gina Dutcher violated election laws, the state open records act and gave the group misinformation that blocked them from being on the November 2015 ballot.
According to the police union, the City of Pueblo has only 1.7 police officers per 1,000 residents, but the state average is 2.4. Union members said that even with the recent budgeting for seven new officers for 2016, another 50 officers are needed to fully staff the police department so that it meets state averages. Pueblo police officers told Channel 13 late last year that they couldn’t publicly talk for fear of retaliation however they told news anchor James Jarman that they blamed “the man upstairs,” the City Manager Sam Azad for his failure to provide for more officers so that they could feel safe on their jobs. Former Council President Thurston was quoted saying that he had never heard so many complaints about unsolved cases and lack of police officers. Within a few days of the tv report, coupled with pressure from social media by Pueblo Reform threatening to head to the June primary ballot should the City not allow for more police officers, Council asked Azad to pull funds from emergency funding for seven more for 2016.
“I don’t care where the push for more officers is coming from,” said one police officer off the record regarding the subject. “Everyone is talking about us needing more cops and we really do need help.” He said that Chief Velez put out an order that officers are not to talk to reform members but he didn’t understand why, that the word is that the group has been the most vocal about the issue on social media, bringing it to the forefront, helping police officers out.
Police officers who contacted Southern Colorado Independent the morning after the DA attended Council to propose the proposed tax increase for public safety, said that Chief Velez misconstrued numbers that he recently reported to the mainstream media, stating that major crimes are down 3% from 2014-2015. One officer said for example that burglaries in homes are down as the Chief reported, however he appears to have purposefully neglected to report that total burglaries overall are on the rise in Pueblo. And the officer said while thefts in totality are up, but when you remove the the merchant as the Chief did in his tainted report, they are down. Auto thefts are up from 650 to 899 from 2014-2015.
Publisher’s Note – The atrocious results of the police Union’s release of an survey – in which police officers said they would give the Chief a 95% vote of no confidence and the City Manager Azad even worse – were covered a few weeks ago by Channel 5 and 11, but the Chieftain only covered the huger story as a side note in an inside section and their partner Channel 13 has remained silent but has covered the Chief’s release of “new numbers” timed, like the DA’s proposal, just in time for the police to use both to defend his job to Council January 25th. Meanwhile the Chieftain refused to print a correction about the work of Pueblo Reform after they misreported last week that the group had submitted legislation in July for a Citizen Review Board when instead the group submitted a proposed ballot item for an Independent Auditor for the entire City of Pueblo amongst other things that has a provision in it mandating that the state average of police officers be met over a five year period by the City. More to come on these issues covered by the new Southern Colorado Independent Magazine, your new alternative news source.
Note- this article does contain some editorializing as necessary for explanation in the context of what has and hasn’t been reported by the mainstream media. Jenny Paulson is the publisher of Southern Colorado Independent Magazine being launched online in January 2016 to provide alternative journalism for the Pueblo region. Paulson owned Frontier Magazine, an independent alternative in Northwest Colorado from 1994-2002 and has owned various niche magazines for 20 years. She has lived in Pueblo ten years.