Pete Carey has stepped into the role of interim chief for the Colorado Springs Police Department at an interesting time.
Steve Bach's not even six months in as the city's first strong mayor. There's a new city attorney and a new fire chief. At a recent gathering of the mayor's "executive team," Bach couldn't help but point out the obvious; according to Carey, he asked, "Anybody here not new?"
"We're learning as we go," says Carey, "and it's a really interesting dynamic. There's a lot of new ideas that are taking ground."
Bach says he will evaluate Carey's performance next March. And, Carey says, the mayor is giving him the freedom to succeed or fail.
Take, for example, the recent decision to pull the cameras on red lights. While he discussed the matter ahead of time with the mayor, Carey says, "it was my call, ultimately."
There are issues
Tough decisions and controversy come with the territory. Chief Richard Myers departed last month amid controversy surrounding a Hooters liquor bust. Carey says the Colorado Bureau of Investigation is a couple weeks away from finishing its closer look, but in the meantime, he's also gathering best practices from other cities regarding liquor enforcement.
"I've done a couple tours in Metro [Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence], as a narcotics enforcement detective, and as a supervisor, running the liquor enforcement unit," says Carey, who at 53 has been with the CSPD for more than 25 years. "I can tell you that liquor enforcement is tough. It is really hard to regulate hundreds and hundreds of both county and city liquor licenses."
Also tough, Carey says, has been dealing with tight budgets.
"As long as I have been a police officer here it has been a struggle to put, as they say, cops on dots," he says, referring to the need to respond to crimes as quickly as possible. "It has been a struggle managing our resources. The last few years, it's been even more difficult."
According to the department, in 2008, the budget covered 687 officers. This year, the budget is for 641, with 622 currently on the force. Carey's looking to make the most of upcoming hires by seeking more community resource officers, who "respond to the lower-level types of crimes," take care of traffic accidents, and process crime scenes where there isn't a suspect on the scene.
"They are not paid as much as police officers," he says, adding that the department can hire two community service officers for every police officer. "And it's a great way to recruit police officers, too." For college kids, especially, it's a foot in the door. "It's a good business model; it makes a lot of sense."
Carey says that he plans to add those positions into all four patrol divisions sometime next year. And Colorado Springs Police Protective Association president Pete Tomitsch says expansion of the program sounds good to him: "I believe that's the right direction to go in, and Chief Carey believes that, too," he says, "so full steam ahead."
Years of experience
Carey, who was a deputy chief for nearly four years, calls Myers "one of the best bosses I've ever had."
"He gave me a lot of opportunities," he says. "He struck me as a kind of guy who would be a successful executive in the police world, in the private world, in the academic world. A really smart guy. What I liked about Chief Myers, he had a national view of policing: 'What do you do to make policing better across the board?'"
But he adds that they do approach their work a little differently.
"I'm very much focused on having the very best police department right here ... and that's probably the biggest difference between Rick and me: He was an idea guy. My problem, half the time I didn't have the money to put his ideas into action, and that was my job."
Tomitsch points out that Carey has come up through the ranks, giving him valuable perspective.
"He's highly respected by the rank-and-file. Not only is he highly respected, he's well-liked," Tomitsch says. "This is a guy who is very familiar with the police department and the community in general.... I think that one thing that we've suffered for the last several years has been truly educating the public on the state of our department, and I think Chief Carey will do a very good job of it."
He became an officer in 1982, starting at the El Paso County Sheriff's Office at the jail and patrol. In 1984, he moved to the CSPD. He has worked as a crisis negotiator, training officer and on the narcotics street team. He was a patrol division supervisor and worked in the tactical enforcement unit.
But he understands that all that doesn't necessarily make him a lock for the chief gig.
"I have a fairly small window of time to prove that I am doing a good job or not," he says. "And I think that in fairness to the department, it's not the right thing for me to do, to turn everything around."