Monument strives for safety

Westley Evers greets visitors at the east entrance to Colorado National Monument. Employees staff booths at the two entrances for more hours than in past years and have been trained by the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation to look for signs that may indicate a person is suicidal. Both measures are part of safety upgrades made to the monument in 2010.

It’s not something that officials like to broadcast for fear of reopening the floodgates, but Colorado National Monument has experienced some victories during the past year and a half in combating the amount of crime, vandalism and suicides there.

The successes have been realized after safety improvements and staff training to help detect suspicious activity, Monument Superintendent Joan Anzelmo said.

“I am often mindful of the Greek drama mask. There’s a real happy and a sad face of the monument,” she said. “There are special events, and everyone loves to bring their family into the monument. And then there’s the other side. We’re part of a big urban population, and we are no different from other communities with vandalism and crime.”

Safety upgrades to the monument in 2010 included the addition of security cameras, more proactive patrols of law enforcement, the installation of access gates to allow officials to close certain sections in an emergency and new lighting regulations in the tunnels.

The closing of the top portion of Rim Rock Drive when winter weather conditions are poor has helped to deter some crime, and it has saved motorists from experiencing conditions for intentional or unintentional crashes.

Employees at the east and west gates staff the booths now for more hours. Staff also has been trained by the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation to look for signs that may indicate a person is suicidal, Anzelmo said.

“You can pretty well tell if it’s a regular visitor or a local going to Glade Park,” Anzelmo said.

“It could be if someone comes in a little unsure of themselves. They might have signs of perhaps drug use, or they might stumble on saying what they’re doing. If there are any concerns, gate staff is in touch with law enforcement.”

Last year, there were seven suicide interventions on the monument and no suicides. That’s a sharp decrease from the year before, when officials handled 20 interventions and one suicide. In 2008, the numbers were higher: 26 interventions and two suicides.

In past years, monument officials had to remove a woman’s body and her vehicle from the depths of Red Rock Canyon, a suicide that cost taxpayers $20,000. Local search-and-rescue teams saved the life of a man whose vehicle was teetering on a rock ledge after his attempt to plunge into the canyon.

Officials also dealt with some extensive graffiti on rocks and on a historic building, and they have cracked down on underage drinking. Perhaps the most high-profile case occurred when a man dragged a dog to death at the monument’s west end.

The ability of rangers to quickly notify law enforcement and identify suspicious people may have worked as a deterrent for others considering criminal activity, Anzelmo said.

“They know we have law enforcement, and they are watching,” she said. “We have technology where we can, and the side benefit of that is reducing crime.”


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