In a special study session on August 9, Wheat Ridge City Council discussed the details of a proposed ordinance to limit recreational nuisances such as oversized skateparks and ninja obstacle courses. noisy in residential areas.
Who is going to enforce this ?, asked a member of the city council. A SWAT team? Police Chief Chris Murtha? A crowd of angry neighbors with torches and Sawzalls?
No, it will be the Police Department’s Community Services team: seven unsworn officers who enforce city nuisance codes, animal codes and park regulations, regarding public safety and quality of life issues. .
But they often rely on complaints from that angry mob – that’s how the team does their job. And this work was growing before the skatepark skirmish and the pandemic. “The need is great,” according to community services supervisor Phil Schroeder, who said it was the busiest he’s seen in his 17 years with the department. City council recently authorized him to hire another Community Service Officer (CSO) to supplement the six who usually work with him.
I participated in a code enforcement patrol and met Schroeder, Senior CSO Marie Trujillo, and CSOs Barbara Webb and Kade Ishmael in their offices mid-morning in August.
Three CSOs were missing. Schroeder said CSOs often shift to patrols – “sworn” positions in the police department. Simply explained, sworn officers take an oath to the police chief, are academically trained, can carry weapons, and make arrests. CSOs are in uniform, unarmed and only deal with crimes, distributing administrative citations (tickets). Luckily for the team (and the citizens of Wheat Ridge), four new CSOs were found, just waiting for their background checks to be completed.
The public lodges complaints and a dispatcher sends them to the team. Each morning there is a list of calls that each CSO must answer, viewed from their mobile communication system (laptop) in their vehicles.
With the arrival of COVID-19, the average number of calls has doubled from 200-225 per month on average to 500 last August. They don’t make masked calls – these go to Jeffco Public Health – but they typically review complaints about leash, tall grass and weed laws, and unregistered or illegal home businesses.
Our first call was to Stevens Elementary, where staff had reported a skinny coyote with bad fur outside the building. No, wild animals do not get a ticket for hanging out in a school. It is a matter of animal welfare and safety, and it is the responsibility of the team. “We will meet (school) staff, educate and drop off a meatball,” was the plan, according to Trujillo.
We caught up with Stevens’ facilities manager Samuel Hernandez, who said the school was in ‘light lockdown’, with children inside and away from a potentially dangerous animal. Hernandez showed us a cell phone photo of the creature (it could have been a fox), and the CSOs checked the foliage lining the schoolyard to see if it was still there.
After some discussion, it was agreed that the children could play safely on the other side of the building from the sighting of the creature, and Webb would return with a “special meatball” – a dose of the drug against. scabies mixed with meat, supplied by a local veterinarian. Pethood planned.
A visit to a dog daycare accused of failing to follow animal welfare regulations was next.
We approached the entrance and both Webb and Trujillo commented on the weeds and tall grass. Webb knocked, and when the manager came to the door, introduced herself, explained that she was investigating a complaint and asked for permission to enter and look around – CSOs need permission or a search warrant (or “urgent circumstances”) to enter private property, like any other police officer.
The investigation was simple: verify that the animals had sufficient food, water and space in their kennels, and that animal food and medicine were not stored in the same refrigerator. Was there enough staff for the number of dogs? What is allowed and what is not can be found in Colorado’s Pet Animal Care Facilities Act (PACFA). Aside from the weeds up front, Webb’s big concern was adequate ventilation; she discussed it with the manager, then left a business card with the owner – no ticket today.
The last call of the ride was a downsizing issue: an owner who had ignored repeated written warnings to cut tall grass and weeds. The story, according to Trujillo as we drove to the simple one-story brick house on a quiet residential street, was that the owner of the property died and the holder of a reverse mortgage took possession of it. and did not respond to written warnings. .
In cases of property reduction, the owner receives three written warnings, after which a municipal judge can issue an order authorizing the city to clean up the property and charge the cost of the property, just like a tax bill. The three previous written warnings were still on the front door, where Webb posted them, so sending a request to the municipal judge became part of his to-do list.
A neighbor, seeing the community service cars arriving, approached and spoke to Webb. A smile and a wave of his hands indicated that he was happy that Webb was dealing with the horror. The morning commute was uneventful.
I asked Trujillo if some calls were more obnoxious than others. “Any call can be an unpleasant call,” she explained, and it depends on the tone given by the officer. Within a year of being hired, each CSO learns “verbal judo” – de-escalation skills – through a scenario-based crisis intervention course. “This is especially necessary in cases of animal cruelty,” Trujillo said, “because an animal is part of the family,” and emotions can be strong. In addition, in the case of the kennel, a ticket can affect a person’s livelihood.