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Pueblo Police Chief Steven Noeller comments on rising Pueblo homicide rates

PUEBLO, Colo. (KRDO) -- Tuesday, we reported that Pueblo is experiencing a 122% rise in the number of homicides from 2020 to 2021.

In 2020, there were nine homicides in Pueblo. So far in 2021, there have been 20 homicides. According to crime statistics, the numbers outline a 19% increase in the overall crime index rate year to year from 2020 to 2021.

Wednesday, KRDO spoke with Pueblo Police Chief Steven Noeller about the violent crime rate rising in the city he has sworn to protect.

KRDO: What emotions does it evoke when you hear there have been 20 homicides in the City of Pueblo in 2021?

Chief Steven Noeller: It is tragic number one for our community to have that many homicides. As far back as 1992, this is the most homicides we've ever had. It's tragic for the family members of the people who have been murdered. It's tragic for our community It's tragic for what we have to deal with here at the police department. It's not a good thing.

KRDO: Why do you think there was a sharp increase in homicides from nine in 2020 to 20 in 2021?

Chief Steven Noeller: There is a lot of different factors as to why crime happens in general. Homicide in particular is a difficult crime because there are a lot of different factors that go into it. It's one of the hardest crimes to prevent because it is usually an emotionally based assault or decision that is made based on a relationship that two people have. Some of the driving issues are the bond issues that we are seeing, where people are repeatedly released on bond after committing violent crimes. The lack of being held in jail or prison where they belong.  Not violating parole offenders when they violate conditions of their parole and sending them back to prison. That puts these people in the position to commit more violent crimes.

KRDO: In eleven of these homicides arrests have been made, but drug use was prevalent in many of them. What can we do to fix that in the community?

Chief Steven Noeller: We are doing something in this community to address that. We are working together with Crossroads and other organizations to help with drug use. We have continued to participate in the lead program, which is law enforcement-assisted diversion for low-level drug possession charges, which is a pre-jail diversion program. We are working with Health Solutions and with CIT clinicians on board in our department who are able to go out and help people find resources. I think our community is doing a lot to address the drug issue. The reality of it is as long as there are people that want to use drugs, there are going to be people that bring drugs in and who sell drugs, and that is always accompanied by violent crime.

KRDO: To your knowledge, have gang numbers grown here in Pueblo recently?

Chief Steven Noeller: I don't know the answer to that to be honest with you.

KRDO: Do you know that any gang war is currently going on in Pueblo?

Chief Steven Noeller: No, I don't think we have any indication that there is a gang war going on. It has happened in the past in different communities. I don't think that is what we are dealing with here.

KRDO: Is there anything Pueblo Police can do to target gang violence?

Chief Steven Noeller: Yes, there are and there are things that we are doing. We are arresting people that are doing violent things and putting them in jail, the trick is getting them to stay there. We have officers that are dedicated to going out and dealing with gangs in particular and they do a really good job. We have made 62 possession of a weapon by a previous offender arrests. Those numbers don't happen just because people are carrying more guns, although I think that is an issue, they happen because we have guys out there making those arrests.

KRDO: What can be done to directly address the homicide problem?

Chief Steven Noeller: There is always something we can do. That is what I challenge our department to do all the time. We need to identify where the issues are and some of those issues are within our sphere of control and those are what we need to focus on. We can do things like proactive patrol. We can do things like having our CIS department go out and target gang members. We can do things with our narcotics unit to try and target drug use, and those things are things that we are doing.

KRDO: Pueblo Police is short about 24 patrol officers. Is that hurting your ability to defend against violent crime?

Chief Steven Noeller: You just don’t ever know what the true causes of things are, or what I look at is what we are doing. We are repeatedly arresting violent offenders who are carrying weapons and are using those weapons in offenses and putting them in jail when they happen. We do have a staffing shortage. Would I be able to do more things if I had more patrol officers? Absolutely, there’s no doubt. Would that have an effect on our homicide rate? Potentially it could. But if they are going to bond out of jail, if they are going to be released out of prison back into the streets of Pueblo there is only so much we can do. What we need to do is work together to find solutions across the entire spectrum of the criminal justice system. We need to do our part at the Pueblo Police Department and I think my officers are they are out there proactively right now as we speak looking for people that are committing crimes, targeting gang members who are committing crimes, so those are the things that we can and do focus on.

KRDO: Is there anything you want to say to someone that may live in fear in Pueblo?

Chief Steven Noeller: One thing I can say is usually on a murder there is some kinda relationship between the person committing the crime and the victim of a crime. That may be an actual relationship, that may be in a relationship due to the business they run. Maybe they are into narcotics, maybe they’re into gang life. It’s not something that typically happens to the average person just walking around and our police officers are committed to making the City of Pueblo as safe as we possibly can. Every day they come to work and work ten plus hours patrolling the streets of Pueblo trying to take people into custody who are committing violent crimes. Our goal is to lower crime and from 2017-2019 we had done just that. We had lower crime all three years for a total of 25% reduction over those three years. I think there are specific challenges this year that are making it a little more difficult. Everyone in the criminal justice system is trying to do the right thing, I just don't think we are firing on all cylinders.

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Sean Rice

Sean is a reporter based out of Pueblo for KRDO. Learn more about him here.

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