Council studying tax increase for more police and equipment

John Nelson by William Woody

Citing the need for more officers, equipment, investigative capabilities, and a desire to be more proactive to tackle street crime, members of the Montrose Police Department – led by a group of concerned citizens – went before city councilors Monday to address the need for a sales tax increase to adequately fund community policing in Montrose.

During Monday’s City Council Work Session Montrose Police Chief Tom Chinn told council the department’s efforts to be more proactive within the city regarding drug trafficking, petty crime, traffic control, and just have enough officers to respond to calls, is falling drastically behind.

“We are really struggling to met our daily call load,” Chinn told councilors. “We definitely need more people on the street. We don’t have time to take care of the drug houses around town.”

Chinn said officers are dealing more with mental health issues “than ever before” in terms of individuals they interact with on the street. Chinn said a lot of the mental health issues officers face from the public is tied to an increase in drug trafficking.

According to Chinn, these increases in drug trafficking, in both methamphetamine and heroin, in Montrose has spurred increases in petty crimes like theft and burglaries.

For example, petty crime per every 1,000 residents in Montrose stands at 37 percent, the national average is 17.5 percent. For property crime, the national average is 25 percent, per every 1,000 residents. In Colorado, that average is 27 percent. In Montrose, the average is 43.2 percent.

These numbers were compiled by John W. Nelson, a former police officer and judge, who now works as a private citizen advocating for law enforcement safety in Montrose. He is the head of a citizen advisory committee that brought these concerns to the city manager’s office and police department in hopes of getting more funding for city officers. Nelson is also the President of the Montrose Regional Crime Stoppers Inc., and Director of Crime Stoppers USA.

The ultimate conclusion reached by the citizen advisory committee is the council should consider a public safety sales tax increase that would adequately fund more officers, replace aging equipment and possibly expand the department’s offices on South First Street.

Any tax increases in this form would need to be approved by the public through a ballot initiative. The council would need to approve a resolution to put any sales tax language in front of voters for the November ballot. The deadline for council to do so is 100 days prior to the election, or by July 27th.

City Manager Bill Bell was directed Monday by the council to research what appropriate funding would cost and determine percentages of sales tax increases and how those funds could help the police department. Those findings would then be presented to council at a work session for the council to consider for a possible vote at a regular city council meeting.

Nelson said at any given time the Montrose Police Department has three to four officers patrolling the 18.6 miles that make up the city limits. At that pace, he added, officers can be “overworked” which can jeopardize an officer’s judgment on the street. Some officers are currently working 12 and 16-hour shifts.

“All you’re going to do is burn them out,” Nelson said of the officers. “When you’re that tired you’re going to make mistakes.”

Chinn told councilors that the department needs an additional 15 officers and personnel to handle an ever-growing call load, and dedicate officers to reduce the drug market in Montrose. Chinn said his officers need to be able to build solid cases against drug dealers in town to make a lasting impact on the drug trade itself. Chinn said these funding efforts would also help staff school resource officers within Montrose schools.

Montrose Police Commander Gene Lillard said the department has been responding to nearly 200 calls in a 24-hour period on some days.

“We need people with badges on the street,” Nelson chimed in.

For an example, Montrose Police Commander Blaine Hall told councilors last weekend alone, Mothers Day weekend, police arrested over a dozen people who were accused of possessing heroin, assault, and in one case, assaulting a police officer while trying to disarm the officer. These sobering details convinced council members that more funding is needed to help officers in the field.

The question as to how to fund the department will be debated over the coming weeks.


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William Woody