A small group of Durango residents told the police chief Monday night that more needs to be done to address Durango’s homeless population.
There are no easy answers, Chief Kamran Afzal told about 30 people who attended a town hall meeting with the Durango Police Department.
Some expressed frustration with the seemingly limited powers of police or other city officials to clear homeless camps that many feel are a safety hazard and locus of problems felt in nearby neighborhoods.
“They start here, they panhandle over there, they drop a meth pipe there, they camp over there, and everybody’s into this PC thing. What can we do?” asked Scott McClellan, a Durango resident.
One woman asked Afzal if she should call police after finding an amphetamine pipe in her neighbor’s yard.
The police chief said yes, because it helps the police department record accurate data, and that data is used to analyze crime trends and activity in Durango.
“If you don’t tell us you found a meth pipe at that location, we will never know it is a problem,” Afzal said.
Cmdr. Ray Shupe, DPD spokesman, said the police do enforce no-camping laws in city limits, but he said it is legal for homeless individuals to sleep on public property if they don’t have a tent set up. He also said if homeless individuals are sleeping on private property without the owner’s consent, the city would enforce trespassing laws.
Afzal said the police department is partnering with Axis Health System to better address issues such as addiction and mental health related to opioid abuse.
“Just putting handcuffs on them is not solving the problem,” he said.
Monday’s town hall was part of the department’s effort to strengthen bonds with the community, increase partnerships with groups and businesses, and promote transparency and trust. DPD plans to hold two town halls annually.
Afzal released the department’s Strategic Plan that has goals to:
Enhance community engagement.Enhance crime prevention and control.Afzal also talked about how his department is preparing for the opening of Lake Nighthorse this spring. He said it will put a strain on departmental resources, because moving officers to cover any one area of the city requires pulling officers from other duties.He said the department intends to cover the first year of policing at Lake Nighthorse with overtime hours until data can determine how best to adjust shift patterns to cover the lake.
In addition, he said the department plans to start a program similar to the Business Improvement District’s Ambassador program. Under the program, volunteers will be equipped with a radio or cellphone and serve as eyes for the police – calling for an officer if they see any developing situation requiring a police presence.