GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Grand Junction police are reaching out to the homeless with a new unit, after budget cuts forced schools to give up resource officers. The Homeless Outreach Team, or HOT, is fronted by three Grand Junction officers, aiming to curb the homeless population.
"I don't think it's any surprise to anyone in this community that the problem is getting worse instead of better. We have constantly got to reevaluate where we're going to be putting our resources," says Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper.
That reevaluation led to one city officer position getting slashed from District 51 to fund the HOT program. Budget cuts also took three sheriff's officers off the school beat.
"Losing officers from the school resource program has had an impact on our schools," says District 51 Safety Coordinator Tim Leon. Leon says there are less officers to respond to calls. "...thefts, assaults. They conduct criminal investigations," says Leon.
School officials say school resource officers also act as counselors for students. The HOT team deals with a different population, helping the poor get in touch with services, like the Catholic Outreach, to hopefully get them off the street.
"We just start getting phone calls from people, whether they need supplies or they need help or they're trying to get to an appointment," says HOT Officer Cory Tomps.
HOT officers readily hand out their cell numbers to homeless people they encounter during their patrols. "We want to be accessible, so that if someone needs something, they can get in touch with someone rather than getting our voicemail," says Tomps.
Some may argue that homeless people seem to be getting priority. "By developing those relationships, and a cell phone (number) is part of that, we're solving crimes that we weren't solving before," says Camper.
But is the opposite effect to be seen in schools? "There has been a little bit of an increase in bullying, thefts, and drug incidences," says Leon. It is not yet known whether that increase can be attributed to the reduction of school resource officers. Leon says the District is collecting data.
Chief Camper says that as soon as the Department is able, an officer will be reinstated to the school district.