(PUEBLO, Colo.) — Multiple law enforcement agencies gathered on Monday in a joint press conference to address crime in Pueblo County.

In attendance were officials from the Pueblo Police Department, the Pueblo County Sheriff’s office, and the Pueblo County District Attorney’s office who say they are committed to reducing crime. According to Pueblo Police Chief Chris Noeller crime has been steadily increasing.

But this spike in crime only began recently. From 2018 through 2020, the crime rate in the county was declining. Pueblo County ending its three-year streak of declining crime rates, with a sharp uptick following the pandemic.

Crime reporting is categorized into Part I offenses and Part II offenses. Part I are “serious crimes,” likely to be reported to law enforcement, including murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, arson, human trafficking – commercial sex acts, and human trafficking –involuntary servitude. Part II offenses are described as “less serious” offenses.

In 2021, Part I crimes shot up by 22% in Pueblo County. Following the upward trend, 2022, saw a 13% increase in Part I crimes. Pueblo law enforcement agencies are now trying to figure out what changed, and how they can tackle these issues differently.

“As we look at the crime rate in Pueblo County, we want the public to know that we’re all committed as a team to take this on,” said Jeff Choster, Pueblo County District Attorney, ensuring that Pueblo law enforcement officials would be working collaboratively to tackle these issues.

However, they point to staffing issues as one of their biggest challenges.

“On any given day, the Sheriff’s Department is down about 50 deputies. The Pueblo Police Department is down to 20-25 officers. I’m down ten prosecuting attorneys. Proportionately, we’re all down about 40% of where we’d like to be,” said Choster.

Blaming the events of 2020, including COVID and defunding the police efforts, officials say staffing is at the worst point they have ever seen it. City of Pueblo Police Chief, Chris Noeller, says he is used to the cycle of staffing, but not like this.

“I’ve been doing this job for 29 years and these cycles are not new. The dip in this cycle is probably the most extreme I’ve seen in that 29 years,” said Noeller.

Their solution, implemented at the end of 2022, was more compensation and hiring incentives and it seems to be working. The mayor and city council approved a 7% raise for officers and a raise in starting salary of $500 per month for new hires.

Earlier this month, the Pueblo Police Department closed recruitment for their academy at 137 applicants. Noeller says this was the highest number of applicants since September 2020.

“I think we’re starting to re-enter a phase where people are starting to get reinvigorated to do the job,” said Noeller. “I think some of the stuff we started implementing in 2022 will help us address those issues as we move into 2023.”

This year they are also implementing an intern program during the summer, in hopes that they can gain some recruits that way.

Another 2022 initiative they highlighted to address crime was their DICE officers, an acronym for Directed Investigations and Community Engagement which handle low-level crime.

“They are doing fantastic work in terms of preventing shoplifting, preventing some of the homelessness in front of our commercial established months…Instead of a commercial enterprise having to call 911…they have a way to call directly into the patrol car itself,” said Choster.

In 2023, they will be tackling the issue of crime through a few more initiatives two of them being the construction of a new jail as well as a mental health and substance abuse program for criminals.

“As the construction of the new jail comes…We’re working toward a system to…identify the underlying causal factors of the crimes that they’re committing…So that we’re not further creating criminals. Rather, we’re getting people to help that they need, be it substance abuse or mental health,” said Pueblo County Sheriff, David Lucero.