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Colorado Springs Police respond to rise in complaints about Bancroft Park vagrancy

       Electric outlets on the Bancroft Park stage and under its pavilion were installed years ago to support community events.
       Little did anyone know that in the year 2015 those outlets would be convenient resources for vagrants hanging out in the park or even spending the night there.
       This revelation was among several Bancroft-related law enforcement points that Colorado Springs Police Department Lieutenant Jeff Jensen shared in recent e-mail exchanges with several Westside community members,
In a photo shot at 7:30 p.m. July 31, the Bancroft Park pavilion/gazebo is populated with various people and their backpacks. This has gotten to be a common sight in Bancroft this summer, according to the photographer, Linda Schlarb, and police say the park has become a priority because of citizen complaints about crime.
Courtesy of Linda Schlarb
some of whom work with police through the neighborhood-crime-focused Avenue Task Force.
       Among those affected by vagrancy on a regular basis are the Pikes Peak Farmers Market, which sets up in the park on summer Saturdays, and the Old Colorado City History Center across the street. According to spokespersons for both entities, the market has had to call police about suspected thefts from food tables, and the History Center's volunteers are having to repeatedly clean up the unfenced yard just east of their building because it's being used as a late-night restroom.
       This comes after the summer of 2014, when an identical problem forced the center to replace its then-low-walled access ramp, because of the way it offered vagrants a hiding place. “I don't know what we can do to stop them,” said Leo Knudson, one of the center's volunteers, speaking to this year's problem, “other than spend money we don't have to build a fence.”
       Avenue Task Force members have become increasingly worried about connections between incidents like these and the groups of people - typically young men with backpacks and other personal effects - that seem to be fixtures in the park this summer. In varying numbers, they tend to congregate at the 1.16-acre site through the daytime and evenings.
       Jensen, who has a supervisory role in Westside police coverage through the Gold Hill Division, observed that if the law is being obeyed, people who may look unsavory are as “entitled to use the park and gazebo as anyone else.” However, it is also true, he noted, that “criminal issues” have been observed and enforced, including drinking, drug use, drug-dealing and violation of park hours (5 a.m. to 11 p.m. in the warmer months).
       Overnight camping (prohibited by city law in public places) does not happen there as often as it might seem. “We are finding that folks are staying in wooded areas near the park and then converging on the park during the day,” Jensen said. “However, we have made several arrests for those sleeping in the park itself too.”
       Regarding the electrical outlets, “we had discovered that some individuals were sleeping in the park and plugging their electronic items into the light poles that used to have active electrical outlets,” he explained. “We worked
A popular locale for community events, Bancroft Park is home to the Farmers Market on Saturdays from June to October, as seen in this shot from 2014. At upper right is part of the pavilion roof.
Westside Pioneer file photo
with the Parks Department and had those outlets turned off. Unfortunately, the outlets that are in the pavilion itself as well as the stage cannot be turned off because the electrical system is directly tied to the overhead lighting in both places. We felt that we are better off leaving those outlets active so we can have the overhead lighting on every night and see if anyone is camping. This does, though, make the park a more convenient place for some to try to sleep, having electrical power available.”
       Police attention on Bancroft is part of its Westside coverage involving three teams each day of the week. “During the latter part of June, Bancroft Park became one of the Gold Hill Patrol Division's current focus areas for proactive enforcement due to complaints we were receiving regarding the park and around the library directly to the north,” Jensen said. “We have been using foot, vehicle and bicycle patrols in this neighborhood to try to help address these issues.”
       The lieutenant continued: “Those in the neighborhood may even recognize [our] various unmarked patrol cars in the area around the park quite frequently. Through visible and more covert patrols, we have found that over time, people with poor intentions will be less likely to use the park.”
       Jensen's information-sharing was prompted by e-mails sent out by the Avenue Task Force's Linda Schlarb July 31, including photos
Police Lt. Jeff Jensen (standing) joins other law enforcement officials in displaying signs intended to discourage people from giving money to panhandlers. The unveiling took place during the March meeting of the Avenue Task Force in the Gold Hill Police Station community room. People who want to help those perceived as down and out should give instead to the social-service charities established for that purpose, officials say.
Westside Pioneer file photo
she'd taken that evening showing several vagrant-appearing individuals gathered in the Bancroft pavilion. At least six of them are visible in one photo, and a few others are out of view because they're seated behind the pavilion's low wall, Schlarb said. Backpacks are evident as well.
       She added that people in the contingent were smoking (which is illegal in city parks), “but I am not going to bother CSPD just to call and report smoking in the park unless they were smoking weed.”
       Providing perspective to her photos, Schlarb elaborated that “this is happening all the time, even during the [Pikes Peak Blues Community] concert last week.”
       In general, she said, “we have noticed a lot of new, younger vagrant types over here this year, many living in the low-cost motels, others on the street. I assume they are here for the marijuana business, and maybe the ones living on the street will clear out when the weather gets cold.“
       On the evening of her photos, “we watched families walk up to the park then walk around it,” she said. “This is after our West team officers are off duty for the day. I do understand that the sector officers are busy, but this is a little overwhelming to deal with.”
       Jensen made an appeal to the area's permanent residents. “When our uniformed officers are around the park, people tend to be on their best behavior,” he said. “However, citizens may see a crime when in the area and should report non-emergency situations to 444-7000 or 911 for emergency situations… Our goal is to make sure anyone who wishes to use the park does so legally, and please know we will continue our efforts because we know how important this park is to the Westside community.”
       More about the police coverage teams:
       · DART West (stands for Downtown Area Response Team West Colorado Avenue assignment) - “We have two police officers who provide seven-day-a-week, day-shift patrol coverage solely for the area surrounding the West Colorado Avenue business district,” Jensen said.
       · IMPACT - “There are four IMPACT teams citywide, with one team assigned to each of the four patrol divisions to include the Gold Hill Division which we are a part of,” he said. “Each team is comprised of a sergeant and four officers who primarily work a night shift. These teams were set up to be proactive in their efforts to positively impact property crimes within the division, focusing primarily on burglary of motor vehicles, residential and business burglaries and motor vehicle theft. These teams also address 'hot spot' areas for various crimes within a division as they occur. For example, Bancroft Park was identified as a hot spot for our patrol division due to complaints of drug use, illegal camping, drinking, etc.”
       · Homeless Outreach (HOT Team) - Its four officers seek out homeless camps, then work with community social-service groups to help willing individuals find “permanent housing and become self-sustainable," according to the coloradosprings.gov website. Success in these efforts are seen as cost-effective for the city, in that, as the website states, “the average cost to support a chronic homeless person with police, fire and medical services is approximately $58,000 a year.”

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 8/4/15; Community Public Safety)

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