It was a normal Tuesday; the lunch hour had just begun; yet if I didn’t know better I might not have realized that I was sitting in the police department’s lobby waiting for Sergeant Eric Gonzales of the Pueblo Police Department.
The entrance is clean, organized and quiet. Nothing I would have expected for an understaffed police department.
The Pueblo Municipal Justice Center building, which was completed in 2010, includes the Pueblo Police Department, the Municipal Court, and Pueblo’s information technology departments. The grand total for the Pueblo Municipal Justice Center building was more than $32 million, according to the project budget summary.
It’s clear at 104,000-square-feet that the justice center wasn’t a mere pet project, but was built to combine the three departments for efficiency.
The Planning and Community Development Department in Pueblo coordinated the cooperation of the police, Municipal Court, and IT departments, and also oversaw the property purchase, and oversight of the building’s construction. The department also organized the ongoing coordination efforts during the construction process of the building, which was completed by Nunn Construction Inc., and procured the furnishing, fixtures, and equipment for the building.
To enter the police department you take the door to the right of the building’s main entrance. For being the police department, it didn’t seem to have much of a police presence, with the exception of the few squad cars parked out front.
But as Sgt. Gonzales took me past the lobby doors it was clear that there definitely is one.
A long hallway of lockers are the first thing you see, and then just a little ways further into the hallway is a door, which leads to what Sgt. Gonzales referred to as holding cells.
There are only 14 holding cells. The holding cells are not your typical jail cell that you would think of, or see in a television show, for the holding cells at the police department are only meant for four hour holds.
It explains why the police department doesn’t feel so much like a police department. There really aren’t any inmates there, and when there are it is only there for a few hours.
For instance, if an officer brings in somebody for a DUI, then the police department can hold that person for no longer than four hours, to allow him or her to become sober and more coherent. According to Sgt. Gonzales, a person is given enough room to only sit down in the holding cells.
There are no toilets included in the cells, but a separate bathroom that the person being held can be escorted to by the officer on guard.
An officer must also be present when any of the cells are occupied. This takes an officer off of the streets, where Pueblo PD has already said they don’t have enough of a presence.
Anybody needing to be held for more than four hours is taken to the county jail.
It doesn’t cause much complication for the police department, Sgt. Gonzales said, “it’s not so bad, because Pueblo is so small.”
But the new judicial building may change that.
“It’s going to become more difficult now that they’ve built that new judicial building, because I understand that the judicial building is where we are going to be dropping off all our people now,” said Sgt. Gonzales.
Essentially, an inmate could be shuttled across three different buildings when the Dennis Maes Justice Center is up and running later this summer. What started out as improving the efficiency of the justice branch in Pueblo has now been separated into three different locations across downtown.
Once a person is taken to the county jail by the city the county jail becomes responsible for that person.
According to Pueblo County undersheriff JR Hall, the county jail could be holding anywhere from 50 to 60 prisoners each month the Pueblo Police Department has brought in, which the sheriff’s office holds for a reduced $45 per day fee.
“We no longer take four hour holds for the city,” said Hall. He added that this is due to the severe overcrowding that is already taking place at the county jail.
The system the city and county uses may work, even if it seems less than practical. There were never any plans to include more jail cells, according to Sgt. Gonzales. The building was designed with only temporary holding cells in mind.
The rest of the building feels like what it’s supposed to be, a police department. It feels efficient and orderly.
The briefing room is one of the first rooms almost everybody sees and starts their shift. It’s located on the second floor. The department also has expected rooms such as the identification office and records office.
The building also houses the training unit, where there are two classrooms, or one big classroom, depending on how the instructor wants the area.
A $70,000 firearm simulator is housed in the training academy. In this room is a giant, PlayStation-like computer where officers use real guns that shoot lasers at the screen.
After seeing the training unit, the area dedicated to the officer’s desks is less impressive, mostly due to the many empty desks that were meant for growth that’s never happened in the police department.
The $32 million space still lacks money. Money to hire officers and money to accommodate inmates for more than four hours. The space is efficient as a police office building, but there still remains a question of efficiency of justice in Pueblo and whether or not it requires three separate locations to work.