City attorney braves wrath of Westsiders
No-panhandling law still seen just for downtown

       Attendees at a community meeting Sept. 5 put City Attorney Chris Melcher on the spot over his proposed no-panhandling ordinance that leaves out the Colorado Avenue corridor from 24th Street west.

City Attorney Chris Melcher at the Westside meeting Sept. 5.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Despite a number of questions/comments - some a bit hostile - about problems with beggars, thieves, drunks and other problem types along that corridor, Melcher did not budge from his recommendation to City Council Aug. 27 that the city should implement such a law only in a downtown “zone” at first, then consider other zones later if it passes legal muster.
       However, Melcher did say that he would share with high-level people in the Mayor's Office the concerns he'd heard at the meeting. “You're just not getting the support you need,” he told the group of close to 75 people who'd gathered in the hall of the Colorado Springs Shrine Club.
       The meeting was organized by a citizens group called the Avenue Task Force, consisting of several Westside business owners and residents. For several months, the group has been researching panhandling/ crime issues - initially west of 31st and more recently including the Old Colorado City area - and speaking during the citizen discussion opportunities of formal council meetings.
       It also came out at the Sept. 5 meeting that the city has changed its previously announced dates to consider the no-panhandling ordinance. The old schedule had called for a vote on two Melcher-proposed ordinances - the other pertains to begging on state highways - at its Sept. 11 formal meeting. However, council members listed numerous concerns at the Aug. 27 informal session; and the Avenue Task Force organized the Sept. 5 meeting so that Melcher could hear directly from Westside citizens.
       The new schedule was announced by Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) President Welling Clark, one of the Task Force leaders. The subject has been set for informal meetings Sept. 10 and 24 and formal meetings Oct. 9 and/or 23.
       Only at formal meetings would members of the public be allowed to comment. Clark urged everyone to come to those meetings to let council see how many people care.
       Melcher stood in front of meeting attendees for about a half-hour before leaving for a previously announced engagement. He ran into some flak when he commented that he was trying to represent “stakeholders” in the downtown. A voice from the audience sang out that the Westside also has stakeholders. Melcher replied that he was not saying otherwise, and that “I hear you.” “No, you don't,” another voice came back.
       The bulk of the comments showed frustration with existing enforcement, the shortage of which appears to have emboldened transients/petty criminals. Several mentioned calls to 911 that have gone unanswered. Mike Crepeau, a business owner and one of the Task Force founders, said the two “anchor” stores in the Red Rock shopping center (off 31st and Colorado) are reporting related losses of $2,000 a day.
       A police officer at the meeting, Tim Kippel, took the microphone later in the meeting. An eight-year veteran, he said that reduced police manpower in recent years has led to officers being unable to respond as quickly or in person, the way they used to. “We don't have as much face-to-face interaction anymore,” he said. “I miss that.”
       Kippel, Melcher and Clark offered similar views on one point - that people should let the city know about crime problems. Even if no one answers 911 calls immediately, the officer urged people to stay on the line. “If you hang up and try again, you go to the back of the queue,” he pointed out.
       Melcher suggested that people who feel strongly enough should attend City Council budget meetings and advocate for more police officers.
       Clark invited anyone who has tried to report a crime and not gotten a police response to let him know, so that he can compile a list of such instances and present it to the city.

Westside Pioneer article