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Police report 'disturbing' early-season influx of transients lured by state's legalized marijuana

       No one's done a statistical analysis as yet, but Colorado Springs police are concerned that the region might be getting more than the usual number of visiting transients/panhandlers this spring. "They're starting early this year," said Gold Hill Station Commander Pat Rigdon at the March meeting of the Westside's Avenue Task Force (ATF)
       The reason? “They're here because of legalized marijuana,” he said. That's been the “overwhelming response” when police have talked with problem newcomers about what brought them here; as for the overall numbers, “we're seeing an influx,” Rigdon said. "They're starting early this year. That's disturbing."

Four police officers came to the Avenue Merchants' community meeting on Westside crime issues March 19 in La Baguette's Upstairs Bar. Two of them spoke: Sgt. Michael Spitzmiller (far right) and Officer Dan McCormack (next to him). Also on hand were (from left) Officers Bob Jeffords and Mark Sandoval.
Westside Pioneer photo
       The ATF is an informal group of citizens, business owners, law enforcement officers and elected officials in the multi-jurisdictional area along the avenue that meets every month or so to discuss crime in the area of Colorado/Manitou Avenue west of 31st Street.
       Marijuana was legalized in the state election of 2012, with pot stores opening in some places this past winter (although Manitou is the only entity in the metro area where a local government allows such sales and its stores haven't opened yet).

Mike Crepeau (far left) talks at the Avenue Merchants community meeting in March at an Old Colorado City restaurant. The owner of the San Ayre Motel on West Colorado Avenue helped start advocacy efforts about two years ago to clean up crime and blight on the avenue. The meeting included members of the Colorado Springs Police Department.
Westside Pioneer photo
       Rigdon's perception was echoed by Officer Dan McCormack, a member of the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), at a community meeting later in March. That meeting was organized by the Avenue Merchants (an informal grouping of avenue business owners and the Organization of Westside Neighbors). McCormack added that law enforcement officials are “starting to track” marijuana's impact on local crime.
       Regarding overall crime issues, McCormack and Police Sgt. Mike Spitzmiller urged citizens at the Avenue Merchants meeting to report crimes or suspicious activities as soon as they see them.
       The HOT team is assigned to work with people who are found to have no place to live. Some are ordinary people who've had bad luck or hit hard financial times; others are chronic homeless, often with mental and/or substance abuse issues, McCormack explained. While some people may wonder why legal action sometimes doesn't happen faster with transients who appear to be scofflaws, he pointed out that “there are lawyers who make money” by suing cities that can't show they've “reached out” to their homeless population.
       Old Colorado City business owner Dave Brackett commented that he's seen one panhandler -- "a lady, a homeless, pregnant veteran for four years. When's that baby due, girl?"
       Formed over the last few years, the ATF and Avenue Merchants have advocated successfully for greater police presence along Colorado Avenue, from both CSPD and El Paso County. Although police have said the volume of crime is not as high on the Westside as in some other parts of the city, there is a concern about undesirables dragging down neighborhoods and commercial areas. “It's quality of life issues that are putting us over here,” McCormack said.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 3/25/14; Community: Ongoing Issues)

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