by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — During the last Walsenburg City Council meeting, council members were briefed by a concerned citizen regarding vandalism and other incidents at the Housing Authority Apartments.
Debbie Boccia told the council that many older residents of the city housing authority’s apartments were feeling intimidated by the actions of several people in the community. The issue went beyond recent incidents of vandalism and dealt mainly with panhandling. “These people, and the police have got to know who they are, go around knocking on doors asking for money,” Boccia said in the citizen’s forum portion of the meeting. “They say they need to get gas to get a child or wife to the hospital. Or they need the money for food for their family,” she said. “These people aren’t married and they don’t have a family. They’re just looking for drug money. And they know who to approach,” she told the council members.
As reported in last week’s edition of the Huerfano World Journal, the city council spent about 30 minutes discussing the issue. Walsenburg Police Chief James Chamberlain said that people need to file a police report before anything can be done.
Acting City Administrator Beth Neece said Tuesday, Dec. 27 in an interview that while the police department tries to be proactive, “they just can’t be everywhere.”
Neece said recent vandalism reports and the issue of panhandling is being discussed at city hall. She said the police department is very willing to work with citizens to help establish a neighborhood watch program and would provide training, materials and signage, but residents need to make that request.
The City of Walsenburg’s Criminal Code, Ordinance 658, does not specifically address the issue of panhandling. The ordinance does say, “it shall be unlawful for any person to loiter for the purpose of begging.”
Some Colorado communities have addressed the panhandling issue.
• Boulder has an aggressive begging ordinance. It further makes it illegak for active begging in certain places, such as its pedestrian mall and downtown area, within specified distances, generally 10 and 15 feet, to the walls of any building. Passive panhandling is not affected by the ordinance.
• Fort Collins has an ordinance prohibiting knowing solicitation of “at risk” individuals and disabled individuals. At risk individuals are those who are under 18 years of age or more than 60 years old. Fort Collins has also passed an aggressive panhandling ordinance, including panhandling within a certain distance of certain facilities, like automatic teller machines and bus stops. Panhandling is also illegal at night. Approaching a person with a sign is considered to be active panhandling and is regulated, while sitting passively with a sign requesting a donation is not.
Walsenburg officials may look into establishing a new ordinance to deal with panhandling in the future if they determine it is necessary.
WPD Lt. John Rodriquez said on Tuesday, Dec. 27, that most of the complaints regarding issues at the apartments have been made to David Mockmore, the Walsenburg Housing Authority Director, who has then notified police of criminal or suspicious incidents.
Rodriquez said he felt many elderly residents of the community in general are hesitant to call police to make complaints. He said when a complaint is made, police always follow up on the information.
The issue of vandalism and of panhandling in the community appears to be a problem that will have to be addressed by both citizens and city officials working together.
Gary M. Vezzani was elected Walsenburg’s mayor in Tuesday’s special mayoral election/recall vote. Preliminary results announced Tuesday night show that both Nick Vigil in Ward