By William Woody
City of Montrose
Montrose, CO — Members of the Public Safety Citizen Advisory Committee (PSCAC) have spent hours poring over police procedures, statistics, and data — even jumping into patrol cars with officers — as they work to thoroughly understand the entire picture of law enforcement services within the city.
The PSCAC, a volunteer board appointed by City Councilors last December, is tasked with critically analyzing the Montrose Police Department and drafting written staffing and funding recommendations to the council.
During a regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday, March 13, members of the PSCAC continued the examination of the police department's current workload, statistics, and trends while considering what resources are needed to combat rising drug and violent crime statistics in the city.
(PSCAC facilitator Dr. Jack McGrath, center, speaks to the group during the first PSCAC meeting held in City Council Chambers Jan. 30.)
The PSCAC began this review on March 6 and continued conversations at Wednesday's meeting.
At the March 6 meeting, John W Nelson, president of the Montrose Regional Crime Stoppers, began by bluntly describing the rise of drug addiction in Montrose. Nelson detailed pictures and social media posts where residents regularly describe finding drug paraphernalia, including syringes, in public places like city parks and public school campuses.
Nelson said that by analyzing police department statistics, each member of the PSCAC would have a solid foundation to better identify both strengths and weaknesses within the police department.
"I really congratulate you for volunteering, because you’re faced with a major concern," Nelson told the committee. "Your actions, to a degree, are going to govern what happens to this city probably for the next 10 to 15 years."
Nelson said police officers spend the majority of their time responding to crime rather than working to be proactive in preventing crime in the first place.
(Montrose Police Chief Blaine Hall speaks to members of the PSCAC about crime statistics during a Feb. 27 meeting.)
Over the course of the March meetings, Montrose Police Chief Blaine Hall delivered a 70-page report to the committee. Citing federal data, Hall told the committee that just 30 percent of all crime in the United States is reported to law enforcement.
Crimes and cases involving assault, domestic violence, protection order violations, felony and misdemeanor crimes, and sexual assaults are all trending higher in Montrose than in previous years, according to Montrose Police Department data.
In terms of assaults for example, in 2010 the total number of assaults reported was 124, in 2018 that number increased to 341. Arrests for assaults during this time period rose from 85 in 2010 to 205 in 2018. The amount of time and paperwork required making arrests or filing charges in these cases pinpoints one factor in the shortage of police officers in the department.
The trend with assaults mirrors nearly every other major crime category the department investigates, according to department data.
With regard to domestic violence and protection order violations, Hall said each case requires a thorough and intensive investigation to protect victims. In some cases of domestic violence, officers need to work overtime to properly file reports or charges, Hall said.
Hall said the same investigation methods are used in sexual assaults, especially the cases involving children.
"Some of these crimes we cannot stop investigating because an officer's shift has ended,” Hall said. "We just want to make sure these cases are done right and sometimes that involves unexpected overtime or additional officers being called in."
With adult felony crime, in 2010 480 felonies were reported, eight years later in 2018, the number rose to 724.
"This is a concern," Hall said.
The Montrose Police Department is one of 17 law enforcement agencies within the 7th Judicial District. Hall said the district reported a record number of felony court filings in 2018, which indicates a system-wide strain in resources spanning from police officers on the street to prosecutors in the courtroom.
(Montrose Police Patrol Commander Tim Cox speaks about patrol services during a Feb. 28 PSCAC meeting.)
Hall spoke about the increase in drug use in Montrose, focusing on a rise in heroin and methamphetamines.
The rise in crime, drug use, and mental health situations presents a future "stressor" on the department, according to Hall.
Hall, along with Commanders Tim Cox and Matt Smith, provided the PSCAC with a list of future department goals. Increases in resources and personnel within the patrol, detective, and school resource departments are now seen as essential to the effectiveness of the department in serving the community.
By increasing the number of officers, Hall explained, the department will be able to reduce call times while working towards a more proactive style of community policing.
The March meetings follow about six hours of education PSCAC members consumed during an abbreviated Citizens Police Academy hosted by the Police Department in late February.
(Members of the PSCAC break out into groups during the Jan. 30 meeting.)
During the academy, committee members sipped coffee and sought to bring themselves up-to-speed with current police operations. Chief Hall, along with Commanders Cox and Smith, held hours long, back-and-forth question and answer sessions regarding assaults, drugs, domestic violence, officer scheduling and hiring, officer safety, and critical decision-making.
"The committee members had excellent questions for the police presenters and were highly engaged," Chief Hall said. "The class turned from lecture to back-and-forth dialogue, providing an informal learning environment for the committee."
Commanders Cox and Smith offered their insights into day-to-day routine police work, along with real-world scenarios where officers face tense situations and difficult decisions.
"Both Commander Cox and Commander Smith encapsulated the police department’s public safety operations in two three-hour sessions," Chief Hall said. "The presentations were informative and succinct, accomplishing the goal of the committee to understand all that is required to successfully operate a law enforcement agency with the primary focus of serving our public and reducing crime. Both commanders did a fantastic job."
During this period, some members of the PSCAC have participated in “ride-a-longs” with officers to better understand the job of a patrol officer.
(Members of the PSCAC meet on the city campus March 6.)
To facilitate the group's analysis, the city has hired Dr. Jack McGrath of McGrath Consulting LLC of Grand Junction. McGrath brings 30 years of law enforcement background to the group and is a retired FBI special agent. Before earning his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, McGrath was the undersheriff of Weld County, Colorado, and is also a former United States Marine.
The March 13 meeting is the fifth time PSCAC members have gathered since the committee was created. The original committee had 17 members, but due to personal scheduling conflicts, two of the members have opted out, leaving the committee with 15 members - three more than the original goal of 12.
The next PSCAC meeting will be held on April 10, at 6:30 p.m.
Following five meetings with lengthy three-hour presentations, the April meeting will be the first time the PSCAC will be able to work together to begin their recommendation process.
The formation of the PSCAC resulted from a public meeting in early 2018 where a group of concerned citizens representing the Montrose Regional Crime Stoppers brought data to the council that they believed supported their conclusion that police services in the city are greatly understaffed and underfunded.
In September councilors unanimously approved a resolution creating the PSCAC. According to that resolution, the PSCAC is tasked with providing written recommendations to the council and delivering findings at future work sessions and regular City Council meetings. PSCAC meetings are publicly noticed and held in a public setting.
Any recommendations will be approved by majority vote of the committee before they are presented to the council.
For more city news visit: CityOfMontrose.org.