THE CONTROVERSY OF PUEBLO POLICE CHIEF LUIZ VELEZ’S LEADERSHIP WHICH LED TO HIM BEING UNDER FIRE BY CITIZENS, THE POLICE UNION AND FINALLY COUNCIL TONIGHT AT THEIR WORK SESSION 5:30 PM WORK SESSION AT CITY HALL

By Jenny Paulson / Publisher / Southern Colorado Independent Magazine

Due to rising controversy over the leadership of the City of Pueblo by the majority of police Union employees, citizen groups and thousands on social media alike, the City finally made the subject matter of the 5:30 February 1 work session public at about noon today. Typically the City posts the information at their agenda website by Wednesday or Thursday of the week before so citizens and the media can study issues and prepare but only one of seven City Council members, Lori Winner, responded to activist’s complaints last week that the agenda was still not made available Thursday and then by the end of the business day on Friday as usual. However within an hour of posts of screen shots of the missing agenda, it showed up on their website finally.

Pueblo Police Chief Luis Velez just received a 95% vote of lack of confidence in his leadership from Union officers
Pueblo Police Chief Luis Velez just received a 95% vote of lack of confidence in his leadership from Union officers

In addition to the City’s non-disclosure of agenda items in a prompt matter the last few months, local activists also caught also caught Council members having informal meetings not on the agenda prior to official Council meetings, violating Sunshine laws. According to laws, only three Council members can be present at any given time, so activists photographed the meetings and finally in today’s agenda the City publicly announced which might be for the first time, that there will be a 15 minute “dinner” before the work shop tonight. Activists from a citizen group Pueblo Reform say that the City of Pueblo lacks transparency. They point towards the continually manipulated agenda website as just once example and say that the City leaders have continually violated disclosing agendas for meetings, open records laws and even election laws throughout their three years of research and writing of accountability legislation for the voters of Pueblo. After a battle with the City in July of 2015, Pueblo Reform says they were purposefully blocked by the City Attorney Dan Kokosvek and City Clerk Gina Dutcher, who collaborated to break election laws and the Charter of Pueblo, from their right to attempt to collect enough signatures to get legislation on the November 2015 ballot.

In early December of 2015, Kokosvek admitted on video record that he didn’t follow legal procedures and presented then a first reading of an ordinance to City Council members without giving them prior information about a complicated issue which would further limit the process by which citizens could get on ballots. He again presented the ordinance Christmas weekend to Council for a vote, however Pueblo Reform activists spoke and condemned the ordinance saying that Kokosvek was trying to slip something without Council’s understanding of the implications and that they had had approved a ballot initiative in July of 2015 and that the ordinance was purposefully drafted intentionally to block the initiative from reaching voters in 2016. Councilman Chris Nicholls halted the vote, asking that the item be moved to a date in January as three new members of Council were being sworn in. Then in early January once again citizen activists blasted the City for putting it on the January 25th agenda saying the ordinance was against the Charter of Pueblo which clearly states that Council is to make policies and that citizens are to “maintain control of policies at all times” by being able to draft citizen initiatives and referendums “easily.” Activists said the City Attorney created ordinance was attempting to establish an unethical process by which the City Clerk would sit on a committee with two citizens to actually redraft the work of citizens and stall them at least a month each time they wished to ask voters for consent on policies.

By January 25th, the ordinance, which some members of Council asked the Kokosvek to make changes to, appeared as it was first presented, for vote despite citizen’s threats to sue and file state ethical complaints against the City. Finally under pressure, City Manager Sam Azad said that the item would be removed from that evenings vote. Pueblo Reform believes that their legislation drafted in July of 2015, because it was approved by the City Attorney then, is grand fathered in and members are aiming for the November 2016 ballot, with some possible adjustments in light of more recent input by the Union, police officers and members of the community, so that citizens themselves can decide if they want a new accountability system for the City of Pueblo amongst other items. The proposed Charter amendment was drafted after several years of research which included a 5,000 copy survey of law enforcement / community relations in Pueblo, likely the largest in history and the interviewing of those in the legal community and even police officers themselves. Members of Pueblo reform lobbied successfully for body cameras on cops in 2012-2013, attending nearly every Council and other related meeting in town advocating cameras on cops. The Pueblo Chieftain reacted by initially mocking the group as “the special interest group for the poor” stating in numerous editorials that the group’s suggestion of audio and video on police officers was a waste of officer’s valuable time. However Chief Velez finally consented and put the cameras on cops at the request of activists threatened to expose hundreds of surveys and video collected to the public and to the Department of Justice.

However by early 2015 members of Pueblo Reform went to Council meetings enraged at the policies created by Chief Velez that they felt were unfair to citizens and police officers alike. Instead of having detailed policies explaining the use of the cameras with discipline for their misuse the Chief figured out how to use the cameras as weapons, activists say. Most shocking was the policies in which officers would be disciplined instead for having the cameras on when supervisors and higher ups were present. Early on in the usage of the body cameras, citizens too were enraged with the Police Department failed to supply footage of an officer involved shooting. Within the first year activists say that Chief Velez’s policies were such that the community was beginning to not trust that the cameras would do what they were intended to do, which was to provide protection for both sides, police officers and those who may make complaints against them, especially about excessive force. Chief Velez responded to activist complaints by hosting a series of public meetings around town regarding the use of the cameras, however activists say he only “smoke screened” and failed to improve the very policies that activists who lobbied for the cameras criticized. Being on increasing dissatisfaction with police policies and management by Velez, police officers themselves began by mid 2015 asking the popular Police Union, representing 168 officers to help organize a vote of no confidence against the Chief because they said his management style had lead to an all time low morale. Finally in late 2015 the Union, instead of organizing an official vote of no confidence, put out a survey, mailed to Union officers, giving them two months to return it.

Councilwoman Lori Winner asked that Chief Velez be held accountable in a public meeting and thinks he should be fired

In early January of 2016, survey results were released that confirmed what activists were estimating and were reporting on social media, that the mass majority of police officers would if possible give Chief Velez a vote of no confidence if they could. The survey showed a 95% disapproval rating from the 99 officers who responded and worse for the City Manager Sam Azad. Television stations 5 and 11 reported on the story while Channel 13, partners with the Chieftain remained mum throughout most of the month and the Chieftain reported what activists thought should be a huge story as a side note to another story on rehabbing an old house. Members of the social media rallied against the Chief and citizen groups attended the late January press conference in agreement with police officers surveyed, saying that the Chief wasn’t addressing crime issues properly and that he should be fired, and the City Manager too. Activists applauded the fair reporting of the TV stations and mocked the Chieftain who didn’t attend the even then proceeded to misreport the facts leading up to the conference and afterwards, making their errors evident to thousands in the social media on Facebook.

Police Chief Luis Velez throughout January refused to make official comment to news reporters about the Union survey however he put out a statement the same day the Union survey was released in early January saying that a number of factors led up to the dissatisfaction in the survey including a lack of police officers. Then he broadcast through the mainstream media a week before the press conference stating that “crime is down in Pueblo 3%” and was all over the news. However several union police officers found out and reported to activists that Velez had manipulated the statistics, picking and choosing categories and leaving some subcategories out until he got a favorable number. Mainstream tv reporters were informed of the mishap and aired the Union’s press conference but not the “response” from the Chief that evening to City Council which included more stats and plans for the future. A councilman called the Chief reactive and activists blasted him for not responding per Council’s wishes to the Union survey in the public speaking minutes at the beginning of the last meeting. Finally Councilwoman Lori Winner spoke out in agreement with citizens saying that the Chief should be at the next work session February 1st and that the Chief be forced to answer hard questions by Council members. Winner spoke to tv stations saying that she thought the Chief should be fired.

The Chieftain in their February 1, 2016 newspaper mistakenly said that the controversy over the Chief’s job had begun the week before because of a Councilwoman’s complaint, however the controversy over the Chief had been boiling for years until many police officers reached their enough point, and members of the Union board too. Union leaders said the Chief had lied to the media before, stating that “double digit” cops had been fired during the Chief’s five year term in Pueblo when in fact only two had been fired and they both got their jobs back. The Union said they would meet the Chief in arbitration over what they continued to be a character assault against officers the Union represents. Union heads also said the Chief went against voter wishes and shut the substations down, cut back neighborhood beats that allowed officers to have insight, failed to lobby for more police officers or support the Union when they did and that they cut the very positions that the community needed to fight crime, the narcs and the gang prevention officers down to just one. One Union head said “the streets have taken over” and citizen activists agreed and spoke vocally at recent Council meetings saying that the Chief was doing the opposite of community policing, the trend throughout the United States that is being proven to work. The very activists who lobbied for police accountability said that officers and the District Attorney love the body cams and that officers whom were interviewed as a part of the research three years ago were talked to again recently, saying that morale was at an all time low. Also interviewed were judges, sheriff’s deputies and many in the legal community, whom all seemed to agree that a lack Council putting more police officers on the streets had lead to major issues of overworked officers and lack of response time.

While the Chief is going to be grilled tonight on his leadership, Pueblo Reform has in the works still a citizen initiative that will be adjusted for the November 2016 ballot depending upon how the City reacts to the boiling issues at hand. Several Council members have made it clear at regular meetings in January that the most complained about issues from their constituents is that Velez an other higher ups live outside of Pueblo. Items in the reform initiative will mandate that any Police Chief, including Velez if he continues, will live in Pueblo and that the Command Staff will live in Pueblo County. If passed there would be term limits on the Chief of Police requiring that him or her check in at year two and reapply for their position at year five, with a ten year term limit. Because of the extremism of the issues and lack of accountability in the current leadership of the City, writers of the legislation wrote in that a Public Safety Accountability Panel which would be made up of a member from the Police and Fire Unions and citizens to review applicants for the next Chief of Police and would be involved in the review process too. The legislation is flexible allowing that the Union members may be non-voting and that additional citizens be added. The legislation also calls for the advisement from outside consultants to create an annual Pueblo Improvement Plan for the City and for the Police Department both. And also for an Independent Auditor for the entire City of Pueblo in light of the ethical and legal violations of the Clerk, City Attorney and some other members of the City.

Activists say that their legislation includes multiple items as current law allows because of the crisis of the situation in which current City leaders weren’t acting as of the summer of 2015, when the legislation was reworked to include term limits and residency requirements on the Chief. The Union survey results have since validating Pueblo Reform’s concerns, and the provision that would mandate that the City increase the staffing of police officers over a five year period of time, mandating that Public Safety be a priority. City Attorney Dan Kokosvek admitted to Council in December 2015 that he violated the Charter saying that he did it because the initiative would wreck havoc. But activists said that that they believed that 90 percent of police officers would want the Chief out, a figure later confirmed by the Union in early January. And they blasted the City for not acting on behalf of officers and the Union before, leaving Pueblo without the tools to fight especially increasing gang and drug activity. Pueblo Reform is suing the City Attorney and City Clerk Gina Dutcher in their official capacity an the City of Pueblo for purposefully and willfully violating the Charter and election laws with an email and now video track proving that the two collaborated to stop the initiative from being on the November 2015 ballot. Pueblo Reform said in January that the Union survey only confirms the reason the initiative is necessary and say that citizens have a right to vote on the now grandfathered in legislation.

Finally the City scheduled the February 1, 2016 workshop at 5:30 pm at the request of Councilwoman Winner so that Council members can directly ask the Chief what is “really going on” with the Police Union survey expressing major discontent in his leadership. According to the agenda published today, there will be an hour discussion, then Velez will then do a 30 minute presentation with followup questions from the Council. Here is the agenda, citizens and officers and those related to the industry are especially invited to attend.

THE AGENDA FOR THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEETING IS AS FOLLOWS:

AGENDA
I. Call To Order And Welcome – Bob Schilling, Work Session Chair II. Topics
1. CITY UPDATES (5:30 P.M. – 5:40 P.M.)
PURPOSE:
Weekly update by City Manager.
CALL TO PODIUM:
Mr. Sam Azad, City Manager
TIME ALLOTTED:
10 Minutes
SUPPORTING BACKGROUND:
2. POLICE DEPARTMENT UPDATE (5:40 P.M. – 6:40 P.M.)
PURPOSE:
The Pueblo Police Chief – City Council discussion regarding department issues.
TIME ALLOTTED:
10 Minutes
SUPPORTING BACKGROUND:
2. POLICE DEPARTMENT UPDATE (5:40 P.M. – 6:40 P.M.)
PURPOSE:
The Pueblo Police Chief – City Council discussion regarding department issues.
CALL TO PODIUM:
Mr. Luis Velez, Chief of Police
TIME ALLOTTED:
30 Minutes–Presentation 30 Minutes–Questions
SUPPORTING BACKGROUND:

Information provided to City Council on the Pueblo Police Department. III. Adjournment

UPDATES (5:30 P.M. – 5:40 P.M.)
PURPOSE:
Weekly update by City Manager.
CALL TO PODIUM:
Mr. Sam Azad, City Manager
TIME ALLOTTED:
10 Minutes
SUPPORTING BACKGROUND:
2. POLICE DEPARTMENT UPDATE (5:40 P.M. – 6:40 P.M.)
PURPOSE:
The Pueblo Police Chief – City Council discussion regarding department issues.
TIME ALLOTTED:
10 Minutes
SUPPORTING BACKGROUND:
2. POLICE DEPARTMENT UPDATE (5:40 P.M. – 6:40 P.M.)
PURPOSE:
The Pueblo Police Chief – City Council discussion regarding department issues.
CALL TO PODIUM:
Mr. Luis Velez, Chief of Police
TIME ALLOTTED:
30 Minutes–Presentation 30 Minutes–Questions
SUPPORTING BACKGROUND:
Information provided to City Council on the Pueblo Police Department. III. Adjournment

Southern Colorado Independent Magazine publisher Jenny Paulson is a 20 year veteran niche magazine publisher, an independent journalist, photographer, publisher, blogger, activist, world traveler and a proud mom. She has worked as a political activist, for a lobbyist, a pr firm, the governor and for a representative in Washington DC. She has lived in her home of Pueblo, CO ten years.

About Jenny Paulson 88 Articles

Southern Colorado Independent Magazine publisher Jenny Paulson is a 20 year veteran niche magazine publisher, an independent journalist, photographer, publisher, blogger, activist, world traveler and a proud mom. She has worked as a political activist, for a lobbyist, a pr firm, the governor and for a representative in Washington DC. She has lived in her home of Pueblo, CO ten years.