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Supporters of 'Defund the Police' policies protest in Pueblo, Colo in July 2020. (PULP Colorado)

Is ‘Defund the Police’ good policy for Pueblo? Activists, NAACP want reforms but disagree over funding cuts

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Despite Pueblo’s Police Department landing at the top of the list for most per-capita violent police incidents in the state, there isn’t consensus among local social justice leaders on how or even whether to reallocate police resources at all.

What that change will look like, however, remains to be seen. Individuals associated with the Defund the Police movement in Pueblo argue the police budget should be reallocated. But Pueblo’s NAACP chapter wants a fully funded police department with reforms introduced to drive change.

In the background of the local discussion is Pueblo’s Police Department having the highest officer-involved shootings in the state. In 2019, Pueblo Police had 5.37 people per 100,000 killed or wounded by the department.

But in terms of the number of incidents, between 2016 and 2019, Pueblo PD had 12 shooting incidents while Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office had 5 according to a study by Colorado’s Division of Criminal Justice in January of this year.

Local activist and supporter of the defund movement, Theresa Trujillo, wants voters to decide to reallocate Pueblo Police Department funding.

“A ballot initiative is very much in our future,” Trujillo said. “We would like to see funding shifted away from law enforcement to other priorities that are better prepared to handle these situations,” she added.

Trujillo says this fight isn’t new and she and others have been fighting for a shift in funding before the national “defund the police” movement after the killing of George Floyd on May 25.

Trujillo points to groups such as El Movimiento Sigue and Safe Community and others in Pueblo, who have been fighting to combat what they see as police violence for decades. However, it was the recent protests that landed the department budget under particular scrutiny.

“I certainly believed the national movement emboldened folks to be able to talk and discuss these issues,” Trujillo said. “But it really has been energy from folks who have been working on this longer-term in our community that really got us going.”

Since gaining national attention, Trujillo said the Pueblo defund movement has been misunderstood by many in the Pueblo community.

“There’s a lot of criticism in the community about defunding police because folks don’t understand what that means,” Trujillo said. “Police are called out for all kinds of calls, and it’s not really fair to expect them to be able to handle all of these different kinds of calls,” she added.

BreeAnna Guerra Rodriguez, another supporter of the “Defund the Police” movement in Pueblo, said reducing the responsibilities of the PPD would help the department.

“Overall reallocating that money to community programs is going to help relieve the stress on the PD because they won’t have to respond to so many calls,” Rodriguez said. “It’d help bring crime rates down overall,” she added.

Rodriguez believes the positive effect of defunding the PPD would be widespread. The PPD proposed 2020 budget is $31.7 million, or about a third of the city’s annual budget. That’s compared to just over $2 million allotted to housing and citizens services, human resources, and welfare — combined — according to Pueblo’s most recent annual budget. 

“Let’s say $5 million goes to community development, planning and development,” she said. “To assist and help people like the homeless and provide professional mental health and deescalation on call at all times. That’s just kind of an idea of what we want to do when we say we want to reallocate those funds,” she added.

Roxana Mack, President of the Pueblo NAACP Chapter, says defunding Pueblo’s law enforcement isn’t the solution and would lead to more policing problems.

“We understand the sentiments and we understand that there needs to be a change in the police culture, but we do not endorse defunding the police department or our sheriff’s department,” she said.

Mack recognizes the need for change in the community, but says the NAACP has a good communicative relationship with the PPD, and doesn’t want to lose that.

“We know that there needs to be more focus on mental health, substance abuse, youth programs — other things in the community — but we’re not suggesting to take funding from the police department to fund the programs,” she said.

Mack said she believes the PPD plays an integral role in keeping the Pueblo community safe.

“Policing is needed in the community to keep chaos from happening. If you take money from them, you take money from them hiring new officers, and we want to get diverse officers on the force,” she said.

Mack added that the NAACP has participated in hiring new recruits for the PPD. She thinks that defunding the PPD may hamper the department’s ability to make the reformative changes the many in the community wish to see, such as increased training.

“When you take money, you take away from the training of the police officers,” she said. “We’re focused more on policy and being a part of the change that’s necessary,” she added.