Friday, February 21, 2020

Sheriff’s coverage with Mt. CB a good move

It appears a resolution has been reached to the quandary of how to provide law enforcement services in the north part of the valley in Gunnison County. 

The question was whether to have the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department continue to act as sheriff’s deputies in the north end of the valley or have a county substation located north of Round Mountain, with deputies coming up from the Sheriff’s Office in Gunnison patrolling the northern area.

It was a major election issue for the two men running for the sheriff’s position last fall, and the candidate who wanted to maintain a contract with Mt. Crested Butte won. It now appears that he has worked a deal to get the town, the department and the Gunnison county commissioners on the same page to agree to a Mt. Crested Butte law enforcement contract—and that is a good thing.

The Gunnison county commissioners appear ready to sign an eight-month contract with the town of Mt. Crested Butte next week. It is the same sort of contract that’s been around for decades, and while it has had its hiccups, it has worked pretty well overall.

The pullback of the contract under the previous sheriff did not make sense to me. There was some mystery about the reasoning and even mystery at times about who was actually driving the initiative to have more centralized control of the law enforcement coming from the county seat. I sort of understand that desire but there were ways to regain that control while maintaining good coverage at a bargain price for taxpayers.

The fact is, citizens had a right to be irked when the former sheriff, with the blessing of county commissioners, started to hire new officers to patrol and take responsibility for north valley law enforcement coverage last year. The moves came just months before the election, when it was an obvious campaign issue that would be settled after November. Would not the smarter thing have been to hold off until the election was completed, since the two candidates running for sheriff had obvious divergent views of how to handle the north valley coverage? While that is in the past, there are a few lingering ramifications, such as some people now going through the law enforcement academy with the expectation of being hired as Gunnison County deputies when they graduate.

But it seems good public policy to basically sub out coverage to professional law enforcement personnel who know the territory better than deputies who would be commuting every day to the area on some sort of rotating basis.

It is certainly fair for the sheriff to make it clear he is the ultimate top cop at both ends of the valley and it makes sense for current sheriff John Gallowich to communicate with his Mt. Crested Butte deputies on a regular basis. I mean all cops like donuts, right? So what is to prevent him and Mt. Crested Butte police chief Nate Stepanek from sharing a bear claw every Thursday morning to make sure they are all on the same page and ensure nothing is slipping under the radar? I got the feeling that wasn’t happening before and it seems an easy thing to do formally as part of the contract or informally as two law enforcement professionals on the same team.

Gallowich expressed some concern about funding the Mt. Crested Butte contract and having to go to the commissioners for the money to fund the agreement. That shouldn’t be an issue. The commissioners have stated that as an elected official the sheriff can run his department as he sees fit. Their role comes in budgeting. Maybe my math skills are less than sharp but it seems a deal-and-a-half to get eight experienced officers, the vehicles, the radios, the substation and everything else Mt. Crested Butte offers for $139,000 until the end of the year. And then do it again in 2020.

Gallowich has followed through with what he said he would during the campaign. The commissioners are respecting his prerogative to run his department as he sees fit. Our trust is that Gallowich will continue working to smooth over the hiccups of the previous contracts so that professional coverage at a good price can continue at this end of the valley.

—Mark Reaman

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