Manitou Springs and the Police State


[Originally published 2 months ago in The Voluntaryist, by Paotie Dawson]

On a recent Tuesday night at the Manitou Springs City Chambers, half the city’s police department pleaded with the city council for an end to an ill-advised zero tolerance policy imposed on the downtown area last summer. Officers noted department morale had sunk, issuing citations to tourists had a negative effect on the city’s economy, and most important, the policy had pushed the city towards a “police state.”

The council voted to end the zero tolerance policy. And this leads to a simple revelation: the council and mayor seem not at all interested in learning different, dissenting ideas and viewpoints. More importantly, why does the council only seem to respond to allegations made by city employees and bureaucrats while ignoring the general public’s similar complaints about other city employees and/or bureaucrats?

Two years ago, a Facebook page (long since taken down) was created to target the actions of a single parking enforcement employee. It quickly became controversial. This followed several months of harassment by the employee, whom targeted locals and business owners. And of course, targeted innocent tourists. The response from city officials to the Facebook page ranged from calling for an end the page to terming the page itself as “harassment” mixed in with charges the page should be “reported for abuse.” The page focused primarily on exposing the abuses forced onto tourists, locals and businesses. The zero tolerance policy was really a blanket policy and I actually talked to a musician who claims he was roughed up by the MSPD for sleeping in his van at a public park—all part of the zero tolerance policy.

So, to say it targeted loiters is not true; rather, the policy was basically enacted to force everyone else into compliance with the dreams of the bureaucrats. It was mostly locals and businesses that took the brunt of the policy, less so the transients or homeless folks.

The zero tolerance policy enacted last summer came following a series of controversial complaints regarding transients, homeless folks, and buskers all in the downtown area earlier in the spring. Some folks, such as myself, questioned some of the claims; others demanded immediate action by city officials. Town Hall meetings were called by the mayor; the first Town Hall resulted in the mayor yelling at audience members to, “SHUT UP! SHUT UP. SHUT UP, EVERYONE!”

A second Town Hall meeting was called, and again, more complaints were raised, though it seemed at times rudeness was equated to criminality, a thoroughly bizarre concept. More complaints followed at the second meeting with “aggressive harassment” being the key term of the night.

A short time following the second Town Hall meeting, a single city employee made an allegation of aggressive harassment at Soda Springs park pavilion. The mayor and city council immediately swung into action with an emergency meeting called; council voted and approved the zero tolerance policy. It’s too bad because many of us had warned the mayor and council the policy would make things worse. Still, concerns and fears were ignored in favor of immediate action.

It took half the police department plead before before the council and mayor to finally listen to reason and reality, and end the zero tolerance policy.

This reveals the city administration lacks the grace to listen to opposing viewpoints and consider the merits of those same views. Many of us who opposed the zero tolerance policy for many reasons have been proven right, and so it behooves the administration to reassess their strategies with regards to how they handle public input, especially over controversial issues such as parking enforcement and the Brooke Street bridge, among others.

It’s time for the Manitou Springs city administration to listen to those with dissenting views, especially residents and businesses. Still, kudos to the police department for more or less saying what I said last summer: zero tolerance policies are politics gone wrong. It was also good the police asked to stop being used as a political weapon. It was long overdue.


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