Survey of Colorado cities and towns finds rising efficiencies delivering public safety services, rosy economies

Author: Ernest Luning - January 5, 2018 - Updated: January 5, 2018

This June 30, 2016, photo shows an antique store on an intersection in Rocky Ford, Colo., in Otero County. Rural areas have been especially slow to recover from the Great Recession that began in 2008: The most recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that, as of 2014, rural areas still had not regained all the jobs lost in the recession while metropolitan areas had. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)This June 30, 2016, photo shows an antique store on an intersection in Rocky Ford, Colorado, in Otero County. (AP File Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Colorado municipalities are delivering public safety services — police and fire departments — more efficiently in the last year, according to a survey released Thursday, though most cities and towns are finding it hard to recruit and retain officers.

The 2018 State of Our Cities & Towns Report, conducted by the Colorado Municipal League, also found that local officials tend to believe their economies improved last year and were expecting rising revenues from the year before.

Police departments are confronting evolving challenges by turning increasingly to community policing and civilian community officers, and police say they’re helping build public trust with body cameras and antidotes available to revive opioid overdose victims, the survey’s sponsors said in a release. Every department said it shares at least one service with another department — from 911 dispatch systems to training, SWAT operations and crime labs.

Most calls to fire departments are for medical emergencies, the survey found, and departments are responding more efficiently with a variety of options, including full-service ambulances, community paramedics and alternative vehicles. Half of all municipalities have a Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

While local economies and municipal budgets appeared to be on the upswing, the officials who answered the survey nearly all named several issues as budget challenges, with lack of funding for roads and bridges and affordable housing called major challenges by roughly half the respondents. Rising health insurance costs, higher demand for municipal services, a tight labor market and unfunded water and wastewater projects also ranked high on the list.

Among the survey’s findings:

• 59 percent of Colorado’s cities and towns run community policing programs

• 51 percent of police departments use officer body cameras, with two-thirds of small towns employing the devices

• 47 percent of departments deploy opioid revival drugs Naloxone, or Narcan, with police officers

• 69 percent of forces say it’s a challenge to recruit new officers, citing inadequate compensation, difficulty attracting candidates to rural areas and public perceptions of law enforcement

• 50 percent of municipalities thought their economy was doing better in 2017 compared to 2016, while only 13 percent thought it was doing worse

• 48 percent thought 2017 would bring in higher municipal revenues that 2016, and 16 percent thought revenues would drop

Read the full results here.

The annual survey was administered by Denver-based Corona Insights last summer for Colorado Municipal League, a nonprofit group representing Colorado’s cities and towns. Out of the state’s 271 municipalities, 105 completed the survey, making for a 39-percent response rate. Municipalities across the state and of all sizes took part.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.