Author: American Military University
By Zachary Hillstrom The Pueblo Chieftain
PUEBLO, Colo. — A determined group of Pueblo police officers and community volunteers braved the below-freezing temperatures Sunday morning and took to the streets in an effort to continue what the Pueblo Police Department’s Watch IV has been doing since March of last year: cleaning up a portion of the East Side.
The clean-up on Sunday was of a literal nature, as volunteers walked the area surrounding El Centro del Quinto Sol recreation center, picking up trash, placing it into black bags and then transporting the bags to a large dumpster.
But the figurative clean up of the area began last year, when Watch IV identified it as an ideal location to conduct a Community Oriented Policing (C.O.P.) project, in which officers target a specific area with high crime rates to reduce the problems and empower the community to take an active role in the safety of their neighborhood.
“Obviously, we see the whole city is needing our services, but we wanted a focal area where we could put more officers in that area, do more patrols and more traffic enforcement,” said Watch IV Officer Bryan Gonzales.
“This gets us to work cooperatively with the community, which is what we want to do.”
Watch IV chose the area on the East Side surrounding El Centro del Quinto Sol, with a southern boundary of East Fourth Street, a northern boundary of East 12th Street, a western boundary of Erie Avenue and an eastern boundary of Hudson Avenue.
Through their efforts, and the buy-in from the surrounding community, the one-year results of the project have been significant.
According to statistics provided by the Pueblo Police Department, from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30 of this year, crime in the target area has been reduced in a number of different categories, including burglaries, sexual assaults and shootings.
Their data shows that burglaries decreased by 28 percent, dropping from 44 last year to just 32 in 2018; sexual assaults dropped from two to one, for a 50 percent decrease; and shootings dropped from eight last year to just one so far in 2018, for a decrease of 88 percent.
Narcotics arrests in the area, however, have skyrocketed, not because illegal drugs have become more prevalent, but because increased police presence has resulted in more drugs being found and their users and sellers being taken off the street, police said.
“That’s because of the fact that we’re contacting people more,” Gonzales said. “We’re finding more people that have drugs and we’re arresting them.”
Members of the community have seen the results of the C.O.P project firsthand.
“(The crime) has definitely gone down,” said Toby Gonzales, who’s lived on East Sixth Street for the past five years.
“When we first moved here, there was all these drugs and everything and I saw it a lot in the neighborhood, … but it’s been cleaned up a lot since they came in.”
Toby Gonzales was one of the community volunteers to aid Watch IV in their community cleanup on Sunday, and he said the cleanup, as well as the ongoing C.O.P. project, are a major benefit to the children who live in the area.
“This is for the kids … because all the kids come to the skate park and skate, and my kids like going to the center,’ he said. ‘It just makes it safer for them.”
Another local resident, 62-year-old Vickie Gatlin, echoed Toby Gonzales’ sentiments.
“Every little bit of help is good for my community,” Gatlin said.
“I’m all about the kids. Let’s get the kids back in their neighborhood. Riding their bicycles, on the sidewalks, and going to the skate park without them or their parents having to be worried.”
As a thank you to the community for buying into the project and taking ownership over the goings-on in their neighborhood, Watch IV hosted a community barbecue at El Centro del Quinto Sol following the cleanup, featuring free food, carnival games for kids, prizes and a youth clothing giveaway.
“We wanted to have a community barbecue to show our appreciation and show we’ve made a positive impact,” said Officer Gonzales.
“There’s a lot of people in this area who want to stand up and say we’re not going to tolerate this. … This is a great park and a great facility right here, and we want to show that these are for the children, these are for the kids and the people who want to access them for the right reasons.
‘And we’re not going to tolerate the drug dealing, the prostitution, none of that,’ he said. ‘We’re not going to have it here.”