Colorado Springs community activists push back on continued efforts to fund a new police training facility

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Members of Stop Cop City COS speak outside of Colorado Springs City Hall on Nov. 14, 2023. The group actively campaigned against measure 2A which would have let the city keep some TABOR refunds as seed money for a new police training facility.

A group of Colorado Springs community activists is continuing to speak out about the city's plans to build a new police training facility, despite 52 percent of voters turning down a measure to help fund the project.

Stop Cop City COS actively campaigned against measure 2A which would have let the city keep some TABOR refunds as seed money for the facility. The coalition disagrees with the city's assertion that a no-vote on 2A doesn't mean residents don't support the new training space. 

Abigail Beckman/KRCC News
Community activist Sam Christiansen says the city's decision to continue with plans for a police training facility despite residents voting down a measure to fund the project is "absolute nonsense."

Community activist and Chinook Center co-founder Sam Christiansen spoke outside of city hall on Tuesday on behalf of the group. 

"You don't get to campaign on an issue and say, 'This is about the police and the police budget and police training,' and then when you lose after running that expensive campaign, say, 'That doesn't really represent the will of the people,''' Christiansen said. "You don't get to do that."

Christiansen referenced the commercials, billboards, and other campaign materials all focused on public safety that circulated before the election as evidence that the city framed the issue as a referendum on the facility.

"We got text messages, commercials, and mailers," she said. "(That is) massive amounts of money being spent saying, 'Colorado Springs, show up for the police and vote for 2A.' ... It wasn't just about TABOR. It was about this facility, and Mayor Mobolade knows that, and he needs to respect the vote of the people."

Following the outcome of the election, Colorado Springs Mayor Yemi Mobolade said the new facility will still be constructed, although the 2024 budget does not include specific funds marked for the task.

The city has already set aside $1.8 million in public safety sales tax revenues from 2023 and is also planning on a one-time use of between $500,000 and $1 million in public safety sales tax reserve funds for the new proposed facility. Current plans also include a one-time use of between $2 million and $4 million from general fund reserves.

Financing for the remainder of the project would come from an ongoing annual payment from public safety sales tax and the general fund, the timing of which would be determined as things move forward.

The total cost of the project remains in question but could range from $12-$45 million, according to the mayor's office.

Supporters of the project have said CSPD's current training facility limits the department's ability to recruit and retain staff. 

As of November 2023, CSPD currently has 86 open positions including sworn and civilian roles. Last year, 85 officers left the force. So far this year, 68 have left. Of those, one-quarter cited personal reasons for leaving. The same number left for a different job or a career change. 17 retired. There are currently 66 recruits attending the police academy. 

It's unclear how those statistics compare to other police departments in the state, but Police Chief Adrian Vasquez has said he wants a continuous academy class for new recruits while also being able to offer ongoing training to existing members of the police force. He said before the election that it's not currently possible.

Chauncy Johnson with Stop Cop City COS said the move shows Mobolade doesn't understand the experiences of marginalized communities.

"I just think it's very disappointing that the people said no, and you're still going to build it anyway," Johnson said. "Especially in the sense that I would hope that our mayor understands what it's like to be a Black man within the society here in Colorado Springs."

Johnson argued that more police officers won't lead to increased public safety and said adding officers could disproportionately impact disenfranchised communities. 

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Chauncy Johnson has been outspoken against the proposed police training facility since it was first brought before city council this summer. He says the city isn't listening to residents and that the money could go toward affordable housing and mental health services.

"We are not against public safety," he said. "We have not gone through the last four years of watching people get killed and mauled by the police and going through courtrooms just to be like, 'Oh yeah, we don't need safety.' There's a different way of looking at it." 

Later in the morning, Johnson called on city council members to work together with advocates and community activists on a solution to ensure safety in the community.

The coalition has pushed for increased funding for affordable housing and mental health services in Colorado Springs, among other things, rather than bolstering the police department.

Councilwoman Yolanda Avila expressed a similar sentiment when the city council moved forward with referring 2A to the ballot, but ultimately agreed that voters should have a say. 

Dave Donelson, who was the lone no vote in referring the issue to the ballot said at the time that he supports the police force, but said they're two separate issues: whether the city needs a new police training center and whether TABOR money is necessary or the smartest way to do it.