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Pueblo law enforcement addresses rising crime and vacancy numbers heading into new year

PUEBLO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- Monday, the 10th Judicial District Attorney's Office, Pueblo County Sheriff's Office, and Pueblo Police Department held a joint press conference to discuss crime within the city. Each agency also detailed specific plans to address the steady rise in crime.

From 2018 to 2020, Pueblo saw a steady decrease in crime. However, that changed in 2021.

According to the Pueblo Police Department (PPD), 2021 saw a 21% increase in Part 1 crimes compared to 2020. "Part 1" crimes include murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, arson, and human trafficking according to the FBI.

In 2022 there was a 13% increase in these high-level crimes.

During Monday's press conference, law enforcement leaders attempted to provide reasons for the increase.

District Attorney Jeff Chostner pointed to COVID-19 and legislation from the Colorado General Assembly.

"Seventy percent of our drive-by shootings, 70% of our homicides, and 70% of our officer-involved shootings all involve somebody who has had contact with the police before and are out on some condition of release. If we could just keep people in jail that we have already put there, the crime in this community would go down," Chostner told 13 Investigates. "And that's a legislative function to make sure that we can keep people in jail that have already been adjudicated by a jury to put in, put in jail and incarcerated status. So that's some of the changes I would like to see, to tighten up the parole system, tighten up the probation system. Tighten up the bail system, and then have D.O.C. do their job to keep people in jail."

Despite the rise in crime, Pueblo Police Chief Chris Noeller said there is good news. Officers in the Steel City have seen a reduction in arson, homicide, and sexual assault reports. However, there are increases in aggravated assault, auto theft, and robbery.

Noeller laid out some 2022 initiatives the Police Department rolled out to address the rising crime issue and improve the quality of life in Pueblo:

  • In April, Pueblo Police introduced the Directive Enforcement Community Engagement or DICE team. Started with two officers deployed to handle low-level crimes including shoplifting loitering, public decency, and other crimes impacting the business community.
  • Pueblo Police created the Community Services Officers in 2022. Specially trained citizens are tasked with handling calls for service and follow-up where a sworn officer is not required. Pueblo currently has four CSOs and will be adding two more in 2023.
  • Back in October, Pueblo Police began the process of using Compstat. Compstat is a program that began in New York in the 90s and is a data-driven approach to addressing crime in the community.

District Attorney Chostner said between the Pueblo Police Department, Sheriff's Office, and the Tenth Judicial District Attorney's Office, all departments are down proportionately 40% when it comes to vacancies within their respective departments.

"On any given day, the sheriff's department is down about 50 deputies. The Pueblo Police Department is down 20 to 25 officers. I'm down ten prosecuting attorneys," Chostner explained.

To address these vacancy concerns, in 2022 Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar approved a 7% raise for officers in the city and a raise of $500 for the starting salaries.

"On January 3 we closed recruitment for our June 2023 academy with 137 applicants. That's the largest number since September of 2020," Chief Noeller told 13 Investigates. "I'm excited about the higher number of applicants that we got this last go around. You know, I'm pushing our recruiter to get those numbers up even higher for this next academy. At some point, I think this will turn around. The question is when. There are cycles. I've been doing this job for 29 years and these cycles are not new. The dip in this cycle is probably the most extreme I've seen in that 29 years. But I think we're starting to reenter a phase where people are starting to get reinvigorated to do the job."

For the full press conference, watch below:

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Dan Beedie

Dan is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about Dan here.

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