According to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office neighborhood newsletter for September, 68 criminal incidents were reported in the Falcon and Black Forest areas for July and August. Richard Gropp, a Falcon resident for 25 years, said one incident that occurred two years ago prompted him to look into ways to keep his neighborhood safer and more secure.|
“Our house was broken into in the middle of the day,” Gropp said. “They broke in over a four-hour period of time, going in and out. Our neighbor’s security camera caught them on video.”
Gropp said he and his wife were on a trip when the break-in occurred, and their security system was not active at the time because they had windows replaced in their basement and needed to have the system refitted to the new windows. A sign with the name of the security system provider was out front, in plain view, but that did not deter the thieves, he said.
“It was really strange because the individual whose car we caught on camera actually allowed us to back (our vehicle) out of the driveway, and then they went around the block a couple times before parking back in front of our house,” Gropp said.
Jacqueline Kirby, media relations manager with the EPCSO, said the community video program established in 2016 can use video footage like Gropp’s neighbor’s to help solve crimes. However, the owner of the footage has to come forward with what they have, she said.
“We rely on the partnership with the community to come forward and let us know that they may have information that is helpful to our investigation,” Kirby said. “Our community is our best crime-solving resource.”
Community members can register for the video program or can volunteer footage by posting it to the EPCSO’s Facebook page or emailing it directly to Kirby, if they are not comfortable with signing up, she said. People will often use footage from a doorbell that records activity, like the Ring Video Doorbell system, which has been helpful in solving crimes caught on the doorbell’s video, Kirby said.
“We view this program as a partnership with the community to solve crimes; and, by solving crimes, we minimize crime,” she said. “We want people to know that El Paso County is a safe place to live.”
That feeling of safety is exactly what Gropp said he felt was lacking after his home was burglarized. It was not the fact that the thieves stole items like his wife’s jewelry and a safe with their passports in it that bothered him; it was the fact that they invaded his family’s space, making them feel unsafe, he said.
“I know that times are different and that we cannot really go back to the days when you did not have to lock your doors,” Gropp said. “But we should not have to raise our kids to think they cannot go outside and enjoy themselves.”
Knowing that multiple people watching out for suspicious activity can help prevent break-ins like the one he experienced, Gropp, who lives in Falcon Hills, said he formed a neighborhood watch group, called the Waterbury Cranston Neighborhood Watch, and registered it with the EPCSO. The demographic in his neighborhood is mostly older people who are frequently out and about, giving them ample opportunities to spot something suspicious or out of the ordinary, he said.
Currently, there are 12 families involved in Gropp’s neighborhood watch group and another two who approached him showing interest in starting their own groups, he said. The EPCSO recommends that each group’s coverage area remain fairly small because having too many areas to monitor often causes a loss of control, Gropp said.
To become a registered neighborhood watch group, Kirby said certain criteria must be met, all of which can be found on the EPCSO website.
“The big takeaway is that if you see something, say something,” she said. “You can call our dispatch line; I get those calls, too. We can make sure that, if it is a critical piece of information, we can get it to the right person immediately.”
Gropp agreed and said his neighborhood watch group serves as additional eyes monitoring the neighborhood, but also as a way to bring the community together.
“It is about being vigilant, being respectful and being a good neighbor,” he said. “You have to be vigilant about what is going on in your neighborhood. You have to be respectful about other people’s property and to have a sense of community.”
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In March, the first BluePoint Alert System was installed at Sand Creek High School in El Paso County Colorado School District 49. The district’s Enhanced Security Community Advisory Team recommended this alert system (a type of the Rapid Emergency Response System) as a complement to the facility’s existing safety and security measures.|
Pedro Almeida, chief operations officer with D 49, said they formed the advisory team a little more than a year ago to bring together community representatives to discuss ways to enhance security. The discussions also focused on how well the proposed enhancements would work, the cost and how it would fit in with the district’s culture.
“There are a lot of voices at that table to include — parents, staff, support staff, school administration, central office staff and some student representatives,” Almeida said. “We had a very strong endorsement (about BluePoint) from the community and the staff as well as the ESCAT (advisory team) itself.”
According to BluePoint’s website, the idea for the system was, in part, because statistics show how effective fire alarms are in schools. The website cited the last fatal school fire, which was in 1958 in Chicago, Illinois, at Our Lady of the Angels School. Ninety-five people died.
“This disaster led to many improvements in building codes and other fire safety protocols, but key among them was the predecessor to our modern fire alarm systems,” the website states. “BluePoint does for law enforcement what a fire alarm does for the fire department.”
Dave Watson, director of safety and security for D 49, said the system not only allows for immediate notification of law enforcement when there is a crisis on the school grounds, but also sets into motion the school’s standard safety protocol.
“The BluePoint Alert System acts as an immediate lockdown alert,” he said. “It takes the human element out of having to make an announcement to go into lockdown. Someone has to activate the system, but no one has to make that lockdown announcement.”
When activated, the system uses both audio and visual alerts in the building, much like a fire alarm does, Watson said. It also alerts the district’s partners in law enforcement that they need to respond to that location, he said.
“The Colorado Springs Police Department has been a part of our drills for the BluePoint system,” Watson said. “The safety resource officers are also part of the practice drills. We have to collaborate very closely with our partners in law enforcement because the alert is sent out directly to their dispatch.”
The BluePoint system resembles the standard fire alarm handle schools have but is blue instead of red, Almeida said. As with fire alarm handles, the BluePoint handles are mounted in different locations throughout the building; however, this system also includes key fobs (the mobile device that allows one to lock and unlock a vehicle) that can be carried by a staff member so they can activate the system even from outside the school building, he said.
“The training that comes along with this system is critical,” Almeida said. “Staff has to be trained on what this should be pulled for. Students fighting in the hallway is not something to pull this for. If any responsible person can clearly recognize a threat, they can pull it, which increases the number of eyes looking out for a threat in the school.”
Almeida stressed that pulling the BluePoint handle as a prank would result in disciplinary actions; thus far, no false alarms have occurred.
Since March, the BluePoint system has been installed in every district middle and high school using money from the 2016 mill levy override — funds earmarked for safety and security, Watson said.
The system was also installed in Inspiration View Elementary School since it is a newly constructed building, Almeida said. The district will evaluate the system at IVES toward the end of the school year to determine the feasibility of installing additional systems in the other elementary schools, he said.
Almeida said the BluePoint system is not a substitute for knowing how to handle a threat at the school; rather, it is a supplement to it. “It ties into the discipline of the execution of the safety and security procedures we have implemented in the district,” he said.
Watson said the district is excited to have the new system installed; it means a quicker response to a potential crisis.
“We feel very strongly that we cannot sit on our hands about security,” Almeida said. “We do not have the impression that this overcomes the need for preparedness in the schools. However, I think we are sitting in a relatively good security posture in regard to the safety measures we already have in place. We can always improve, though.”
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