CENTER — Center’s new police chief Dale “Gene” Meek was busy Tuesday when interview time came around, advising a senior citizen in town how to deal with an unwanted visitor who several residents reported was wandering around their property over the weekend.
Meek assured the woman he would continue searching for the man and prompted her to remember details about his demeanor and appearance. Center residents have been concerned about increasing numbers of burglaries and thefts in the town, something Meek chalks up to drug abuse problems.
“This is typical of what we see in the Center drug epidemic,” Meek said. “They steal to support their drug habit.”
And Meek has a solution for that, or at least one he is now exploring. It is a $260,000 federal grant that would provide additional resources to combat narcotic issues in the town and also promote civic pride among school children.
The grant would complement Center’s Downtown Colorado Inc. project to introduce new businesses to the town and renovate buildings for those businesses. Meek envisions kids using the grant funds to assist Center seniors, foster school spirit, promote farming-related enterprises and generally initiate community service projects.
Meek also has applied for a Saguache County sales tax grant to purchase a new dispatch console and remodel police office headquarters to create a training center with individual stations and a drop-down screen to accommodate in-depth training scenarios.
Officers and town employees received a pay raise last week, Meek reported, and this should help him recruit better officers who are willing to stay on the force. He said he feels fortunate that in Center there was already a strong core group of officers and dispatchers he can depend on.
When interviewing for his position, Meek pledged to better connect with the community by getting to know residents on a one-on-one basis. He was pleasantly surprised last week when 14 town residents visited with him during his first “Coffee with the Chief” meeting. The conversations produced some very helpful input on troubled areas in the town, he noted.
Meek added that he hopes more and more residents will take advantage of the meetings. He plans to appear in different locations in the future to connect with different segments of the town’s population, he explained.
Another citizen project Meek plans to implement is a neighborhood watch-style group that would work closely with the police department to help reduce crime rates in the town. Often citizens are afraid to report incidents, but Meek wants to equip citizens with radios and train them what to look for before embarking on the project.
“I don’t want this to be a typical neighborhood watch label thing,” where citizens feel they are empowered but really have no tools or training to get the job done, he commented.
Meek also intends to conduct mass shooting training at the school and said he will coordinate the when and how with Center Schools Superintendent Carrie Zimmerman. “I’ll make sure we include the Rio Grande County Sheriff’s Office, Saguache County Sheriff’s Office and Colorado State Patrol in on this,” he said.
Having an emergency response plan that will include all possible players is important, he acknowledged, and will be developed with all parties, especially the school. Meek said he is at the school most mornings and has to remember to bring his stickers with him. “One day I showed up without them and they said ‘No stickers? Awwww…,” he chuckled.
Future times and places for Coffee with the Chief will be posted in the “shorts” column in the Center Post Dispatch.