Police tell Westsiders at OWN meeting:
Panhandling not biggest problem

       Panhandling is not the Westside's biggest crime problem, Colorado Springs Police officials told attendees at the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) meeting Feb. 10 at the West Center.
       Deputy Chief Pat McElderry and crime prevention officer Jim Barrentine used statistics to illustrate their point. A handout (listing reports between 21st Street and Manitou Springs city limits during 2004) showed that along with 16 “aggressive solicitation” (pushy panhandling) complaints, there were 146 thefts, 60 burglaries and 30 assaults.
       But this did not change the opinion of Gary Wright, who has called police numerous times about alcoholic beggars near a liquor store that opened two years ago at 29th Street and Colorado Avenue. “Panhandling breeds crime,” said Wright, a longtime Westside property owner and Boy Scout leader who believes the transients are ruining the character of the neighborhood he grew up in. The people that lead those kinds of lives, sleeping along Fountain Creek and looking for handouts, are also those who might be prone to drugs, theft and other crimes, he indicated.
       He added his impression that there aren't enough police to stay on top of such problems.
       “We respond as soon as we can,” Barrentine said.
       “That's what I mean,” Wright responded.
       Althoug police tried to discuss other types of crimes during the meeting - Barrentine even suggested that residents transform the “whole Westside” into a Neighborhood Watch area - those present showed more interest in the panhandling issue, as well as the chance that the volunteer Guardian Angels might help.
       OWN board members themselves are considering finalizing a letter formally inviting the Angels (a national crime watchdog group) to the Westside. Also in the the audience was Peter Dempsey, coordinator of the Guardian Angels' Colorado Springs chapter, as well as Stephanie Johnson, president of the (East) Platte Avenue Business & Neighborhood Association, who claims Angels patrols have helped her area.
       Guardian Angels, patrol areas on foot and unarmed, using their presence as a means of deterring criminals.
       Police, however, expressed no interest in working with the Angels. McElderry raised questions about their training methods, procedures, and individual backgrounds. When Dempsey invited police to view the Angels' training activities and freely examine members' records, the deputy chief said he had not meant that police care to see such information - only that residents might be.
       McElderry also questioned whether the Guardian Angels have enough recruits to be effective. After verifying with Dempsey that the group has just 12 members in the Springs, the deputy chief advised residents to “think about that.”
       Dempsey and Wright each said they support the police, with Dempsey calling on area residents to give “150 percent” support to their efforts.
       OWN Presi-dent Jim Feni-more said he backs expanding Neighborhood Watch programs as well as letting the Angels patrol on the Westside where they are wanted. He asked locals to “let OWN know if you want the Guardian Angels in your neighborhood.”
       At another point during the evening, Barrentine opined that the Westside really does not have a major crime problem. “A lot of people think the Westside is a terrible place, but when you look at the calls, you see it's not so bad over here,” he said.

Westside Pioneer article