One man said it’s good to see more police walking the streets of downtown Durango, but he’d like to see officers smile a little more. Another man said he hasn’t noticed any police downtown, but that’s the way he likes it.
Despite the slights, nearly everyone who spoke at Wednesday’s town hall said they are encouraged by the Durango Police Department’s community-outreach efforts.
The police department hosted the town hall, the first anyone could remember, to obtain input about the agency’s strategic plan, which will identify goals and give direction for years to come. About 35 people attended the meeting, held at the Durango Community Recreation Center.
Chief of Police Kamran Afzal, who has been on the job for only six months, shared an outline for the plan but offered few specifics, largely because the plan remains a work in progress. The document will focus on four key areas: crime prevention, community engagement, transportation safety and infrastructure enhancement. Four police commanders have been assigned to oversee the strategies.
The department’s mission statement reads: “We will serve our community by improving the safety and quality of life through reducing crime and the perception of crime.”
Tim Walsworth, director of the Durango Business Improvement District, who has worked closely with the Durango Police Department to curb aggressive panhandling, thanked Afzal for an increased police presence this summer in downtown Durango, saying it has made a “night-and-day difference” compared with the past two summers.
Joe Lewandowski, a Durango planning commissioner, said he also appreciates seeing police officers downtown, but they need to be more engaging.
“Unfortunately, they looked like they weren’t very happy to be there,” he said. “They weren’t greeting anybody. I had to say, ‘Hey, how are you doing.’” I just think if a policeman is going to be out there on the street walking, they should reach out to the public and not be walking with a look on their face like, ‘Who’s going to jump me.’”
A woman who identified herself as an advocate for the homeless said she’s concerned about laws that target homeless people. Afzal said police are not targeting people who are homeless. People can sleep in public, but they can’t camp in public spaces, he said. If they violate laws that are on the books, police will enforce those laws, but police won’t “enact laws” that don’t exist, he said.
“We’re not going around looking for homeless individuals,” he said. “We want to make sure those people understand services are available.”
Afzal said the strategic plan will help officers achieve their core mission, which is to reduce crime, improve the quality of life and minimize the perception of fear.
“At the end of the day, we work for you, we serve you, we want your input,” Afzal said.
Nationwide, some people have drafted negative narratives about law enforcement, and in some cases, police can blame themselves for those harsh judgments, he said.
Afzal said he has little control over the collective discourse, but he can focus on shaping a positive message locally.
“We are here to serve you, we’re not here to police you, and that’s the message that I’m going to have for you,” he said.
Several residents asked what police are doing to curb excessive substance abuse, which is often a precursor to violent crime.
Afzal said officers are active in the schools and plan to work more closely with bouncers and bar owners as part of a public-education campaign against over-serving. Officers also now carry naloxone, a medication that can be used to reverse opioid overdose. Police have had several recent “saves,” said Cmdr. Bob Brammer, who attended the town hall.
Residents can still provide input as it relates to the police department’s strategic plan by filling out an online survey on the city of Durango’s Virtual City Hall website or emailing thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The department plans to release a draft of the strategic plan by Dec. 15.