Pueblo’s homicide rate sparks concern, city relaxes police hiring rules

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A Pueblo Police cruiser.

Pueblo’s spiking homicide rate this year has caught the attention of the federal government and is dire enough that the city is relaxing rules to make it easier and quicker to hire more law enforcement officers.

Since January, there have been 11 homicides in Pueblo - or one per every 1,000 residents in the city of just more than 111,000 people. For comparison, Denver has reported 24 homicides in 2024 - in a city of more than 700,000.

It’s the continuation of a now long-running, and worrisome, trend.

Homicides reported to the FBI by the Pueblo Police Department in the city rose every year since 2018, but jumped in 2021 and 2022 — there were 29 homicides in 2022, almost triple the city’s historical average. Final verified numbers for 2023 in the city have not yet been released by the FBI, but the city reported 27 last year.

Colorado Springs, with more than four times the population of Pueblo, had just seven more homicides last year than its neighbor to the south. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Special Agent in Charge of the Denver Field Office held a press conference with Pueblo city leaders on Tuesday saying he was dedicated to boosting public safety.

“In Pueblo, there is no stronger partner than the FBI, and our agencies are working together every day to protect the community by focusing our expertise and resources to address systemic crime and prevent violence,” said FBI SAC Mark Michalek, in a statement. 

Pueblo Mayor Heather Graham said on Tuesday she has suspended some civil service requirements, which will allow the city’s police department to hire lateral officers more quickly and address the “prolonged time” to hire new officers. 

Graham’s order still means all licensed officers have to meet Peace Officer Standards and Training requirements -- but it will shorten the timeframe from application to start date in the police training academies, she said.

In remarks to reporters, Graham cited Pueblo’s gang and drug trafficking problems.

“To the parents, guardians, friends, loved ones, siblings and friends of these young teens in our community who are participating in these gang related activities, are associated with gun violence and these crimes, please help us. Know where your children are at night. Even if you think, “it couldn’t be my child or my friend,” please be aware of how your oversight and care for our teens affects all of us in our community,” she said, in a statement.

She also invited parents to “pay attention to who their children’s friends are and if they are a positive influence.”