Local Police Union Responds To Pueblo Chief

Friday a police union in Pueblo released a rebuttal to a response by Police Chief Velez and City Manager Sam Azad over a recent survey of police officers.

The response from the Pueblo Police Department is to a report from IBPO Local #537. The report shows a vote of no confidence by an officer at the Pueblo Police Department for Chief Velez.

Here is the rebuttal from the union:

January 8, 2016

The recent release of the response by Chief Velez and City Manager Sam Azad in reference to the survey conducted by IBPO Local 537 has solicited a rebuttal by the Union E-Board.

Based on Chief Velez’s response, it is clear that he believes the frustration of his officers is a new problem. He states that 2015 had problems not seen before, such as gang violence, not enough manpower, forced overtime and the condition of police equipment.

We would like to point out that the gang problem in Pueblo has been here since the early 1990's. However, we agree that recently the problem has become worse. The decision by Chief Velez to reduce the four man gang unit to a single Detective in the Pueblo Police Department Gang Unit has certainly not been in the best interest of public safety.

Nor has it been in the public safety interest to eliminate the ten beats that patrol officers used to be responsible for and essentially turn the ten beats into basically two beats referred to as North and South Sectors. When the Police Department had beats, there was a higher potential of the same officer responding to the same address for the same type of calls. The officer immediately knew the history of problems in the neighborhood and would have a better idea as to how to correct the issue.

By enlarging the area of responsibility to half a city, the chances of the same officer responding to the same address for the same type of call has decreased substantially. That puts the responding officer in the poor position of trying to be brought up to speed on what the history of the problems are. The officer is not aware of what tactics were used before and therefore is at a loss as to which tactic might work better.

As far as the manpower shortage, this is also not new. For the past several years, the department has been limited to 193 officers after City Manager Sam Azad froze fourteen positions. That brought the Department down to 193 total officers. That number includes 1 Chief, 3 Deputy Chiefs and 7 Captains. This actually leaves 182 officers on paper, but in reality there are only 164 officers. The 13 newly graduated officers, will not hit the streets on their own until the summer of 2016. The addition of 7 more officers, which were only hired due to an outcry by the public, is merely a drop in the bucket to where we should be.

The Union does agree that the forced overtime issue was a larger problem this year than in years past. However, it should also be noted that the Patrol Captains initiated a minimum staffing requirement that is the same for every day of the week, disregarding the days where fewer officers may not be needed and adding to days where they are needed. Again, the Union pointed out during contract negotiations that we were then at 1.7 officers per 1000 citizens when the state average was 2.4. So instead of having 264 officers, we only had 164. So even with the influx of 20 officers over the next ten months, we will still be 80 officers short.

Chief Velez mentions problems with police equipment, primarily the vehicles. This has been a problem for years, and a problem he said would be addressed during his first year as Chief. He has been able to purchase several new patrol SUV’s which have helped incredibly. We will give him that one.

Regarding the Departments ongoing partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s SAFE Streets Program, this partnership includes a single FBI agent working with the Pueblo Police Department. It isn’t as huge as the citizens have been led to believe.

Chief Velez also states that the Department is going to undergo an overtime audit completed by an outside agency. It is our understanding that this was ordered by the City Council and was to be conducted by an independent organization. We have since been told that KRW will be the independent organization to conduct this investigation.

The “K” in “KRW” stands for Loren Kramer, the former Chief of Police in Colorado Springs. Chief Kramer was instrumental in turning the reins of Chief of Police over to his long time friend, Luis Velez, in Colorado Springs. Chief Velez received a vote of no confidence by the officers in Colorado Springs and resigned.

Approximately five and one half years ago, KRW was hired by Pueblo City Council to conduct an internal investigation into the Pueblo Police Department. KRW’s recommendation was to bring in former Colorado Springs Chief Luis Velez to run this department. It is not very comforting now to see that KRW is once again going to be the independent organization to determine whether or not the overtime issues within the department are based on management’s mismanagement of staff or rather to deflect the blame to the Police Union instead.

The citizens of Pueblo need to be aware that the City Attorney’s Office has had numerous qualified attorneys working for them for over half a century. During that time period, countless numbers of contracts were ratified between the employees and management. Coincidentally, upon the heels of the KRW report five years ago, the City of Pueblo hired one of the largest national law firms, Fisher & Phillips, to annually negotiate bargaining agreements with the City’s three Unions.

Fisher & Phillips not only specialize in contract negotiations, but also in decertification of Unions. We would be surprised if the City of Pueblo admitted that was their reasoning for hiring extremely expensive additional legal counsel during a time period when the city is also saying they have no money. If that isn’t the reason, why then do they still have a City Attorney sitting next to a Fisher & Phillips attorney making $450 an hour telling us the city has no money. It seems to us that the City Attorney could tell us the same information at a substantially cheaper cost.

Chief Velez has been here now for nearly five years. We admit he has done some positive things, but crime is up, morale is down and we have fewer officers now than when he started. Was that the 5-year plan or is there a new one because the first 5-year plan didn’t work? Or did it?

Chief Velez recently told us that he is thinking of placing a public safety initiative on the November ballot. Interesting since the Union supported an initiative 2 years ago that he publicly was against because he didn’t feel the fire department deserved half the money. He informed us that the “fire department deals with property, but we deal with people” therefore he deserves more of the pie.

Sam Azad is the former finance officer of the Colorado Springs Police Department and worked directly under Chief Velez in that capacity. Again, it is probably only coincidental that Sam Azad is now the Pueblo City Manager and Chief Velez works directly under Sam.

For the past three and one half years the Police Union has pointed out to Sam Azad that our manpower is substantially under manned and the crime problems are increasing. Nothing we have told Sam or Chief Velez again recently is anything new. It is the same issue that we have been bringing up for several years now and it has been falling on deaf ears.

We can appreciate the fact that both Sam Azad and Chief Velez have been looking forward to their not too distant retirements but assure you that the employees of the City of Pueblo, specifically the Police Union, can only say, “Godspeed, and the sooner the better.”