Cops end homeless outreach

Low staffing forces move, but program will return

While waiting for the Catholic Outreach soup kitchen to open for lunch, Mollie Woodard, operations coordinator for Homeward Bound, listens as Tony Day talks about how difficult it has been for him to find permanent shelter for both himself and his dog, Maxmillious. Woodard, who is also vice-chairwoman of the Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless, is one of several people conducting this year’s annual survey of the homeless on where they spent the night Jan. 22.

The Grand Junction Police Department will suspend—at least temporarily—its much-publicized Homeless Outreach Team in the face of staffing needs elsewhere, an agency spokesperson said Wednesday.

Officers Cory Tomps and Cindy Cohn, who currently constitute the department’s HOT unit, will be reassigned to patrol effective Monday in response to a wave of attrition at the same time eight potential new officers continue to train, police spokeswoman Kate Porras said.

Porras said it is “absolutely our intent” to restore the homeless initiative later this year.

“We are not giving up on the HOT concept, which has been very effective for us,” Porras said. “But we also have to have enough people to respond to calls for 911.”

Currently authorized by the City Council at 109 sworn positions, the agency has 92 sworn officers, Porras said.

A flurry of retirements and officers leaving for other jobs hit the department at the end of 2012, leaving leaders scrambling to fill gaps on patrol. Six officers assigned to the department’s traffic unit were move to patrol earlier this month.

“Both units are very important and successful in their missions,” Porras said.

Porras said HOT and the traffic team should be staffed again when the department’s eight current trainees are deemed ready to work the streets alone, possibly by March or May. Those eight field training officers have graduated the academy and will spend the next few months gaining experience with regular officers, Porras said.

The move comes as the city has pumped more resources into the department. The 109 existing authorized sworn-staffing level is an increase from 2011 and 2012, when the department had 107 authorized positions. Police had 102 authorized positions in 2010 and 111 in 2009.

This month, the department assigned a new school-resource officer, joining two other officers on the local school beat.

Mollie Woodard, operations coordinator with Homeward Bound of the Grand Valley and vice chairwoman of the Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless, said HOT’s reassignment is a loss.

“We’re hopeful this will be just a temporary change,” Woodard said. “Through their work and collaboration, we’ve seen long-term solutions for many of our chronically homeless getting into rehab or working.”

HOT officers were instrumental during this month’s survey of the Grand Valley’s homeless population, working in various homeless encampments to get hard numbers, she said.

“I don’t have any staff I would feel comfortable sending down to get that information,” Woodard said.

Originally staffed with three officers, Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper spearheaded the HOT initiative in Grand Junction in 2010, modeling it after a similar effort by police in Colorado Springs. The program prioritizes officers building relationships and getting people in touch with various service providers, including substance-abuse treatment, housing and employment.


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