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Sheriff looks to partner up with regional agencies

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Sheriff Bill Elder looks toward the future. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Sheriff Bill Elder looks toward the future.
After a slam-dunk victory in the Nov. 6 election, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder has carved out an ambitious agenda for his second term.

Called the “Blueprint for Our Next Four Years,” the two-page memo to personnel sets multi-agency goals, most notably to create regional 
dispatch and evidence centers.

The Sheriff’s Office refused to discuss the memo, obtained through an open records request, saying it “speaks for itself.” Regionalization is generally seen among officials as a way to cut costs and increase efficiency. But issues regarding who does what and at what cost can 
complicate combined efforts.

“I think regionalization is a very good thing,” says County Commissioner Mark Waller. “It creates cost-effective tools when you combine staff and things of that nature, and I think certainly in the public safety arena it definitely has the opportunity to enhance public safety.” But, he adds: “Like anything, the devil is in the details, and it’s the details, often, that makes regionalization hard.”

Elder’s Nov. 20 memo notes voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to extend the county’s .23 percent sheriff’s tax until 2029, calling it a “mandate” for “outstanding work.”

But the memo adds that there are “major initiatives this office must address” in the coming four years, including:

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A regional dispatch center to improve call-handling for police, fire and emergency medical services.

• 
A regional evidence center to improve intake, storage and disposition of evidence throughout the county. (The city has complained about a shortage of evidence space, and the sheriff’s website reports that in 2014, the most recently posted year, it received 17,146 evidence items.)

• 
Alternatives surrounding crowding at the Criminal Justice Center through partnerships with the courts, mental health and human services providers. On Aug. 20, the Sheriff’s Office reported a record-high inmate population of 1,839.

• 
Resident satisfaction surveys to guide service and transparency upgrades.

Colorado Springs and the county have been noodling over a merger of offices of emergency management (OEM), but city spokesperson Jamie Fabos reports there’s no timeline for the project.

As for regional dispatch and evidence centers, Fabos says, “While there were initial conversations previously, there’s nothing further.”

Asked about a dispatch center, Waller says, “I’d be shocked if that happens, because they haven’t been able to get there thus far. It hasn’t been talked about for a while.”

The sheriff’s dispatch center, at 27 E. Vermijo St., already handles calls for other agencies, including Calhan, Green Mountain Falls, Fountain, Manitou Springs, Monument, Palmer Lake, Pikes Peak Community College and the Air Force Academy.

Fountain City Manager Scott Trainor reports the 2016 dispatch agreement is a “real positive” for the city, “allowing us to save money for our taxpayers while receiving quality services.” Trainor also supports a common evidence facility, noting the city’s small space is “okay for the minor day-to-day ... needs,” but that “one major crime would completely overwhelm our space.”

Colorado Springs City Councilor Andy Pico says regional projects must promise financial advantages, such as the city’s and county’s joint regional crime lab, and a recently renewed deal between the city and Colorado Centre district southeast of the Colorado Springs Airport for the city to provide fire protection in exchange for the 
district buying fire equipment.

Besides those initiatives, Elder’s memo commits to stay focused on illegal pot grows; homeless and mental health issues; and jail staff safety.

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