ASPEN - In the early 1970s, Britt Wurl cut his teeth in law enforcement as a cop at the Aspen Police Department. Now he wants to be sheriff.
Wurl, 58, is in the process of collecting the necessary 100 signatures to be placed on the August primary ballot for Pitkin County sheriff. The top two vote-getters in the primary will face off on the November contest.
"It's always been a dream of mine to be sheriff," said Wurl, who grew up in Aspen and attended its public schools.
Wurl is the fifth person to announce his candidacy for the post that's being vacated by Bob Braudis, who's been sheriff since 1987.
The other four contenders - Undersheriff Joe DiSalvo, former Florida and New York lawman Patrick "Rick" Leonard, Aspen police Officer Rick Magnuson, and Hugh Zuker, a part-time deputy and Mountain Rescue Aspen president - were all certified this week as candidates by the Pitkin County Elections Department.
Wurl said he realizes he has his work cut out.
"I know I'm an underdog," he said.
But he also feels his experience in law enforcement positions him well. In addition to being an Aspen cop, he was a security police officer in the U.S. Air Force and at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and was an instructor at the Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy in Golden. But his most significant law-enforcement experience, he said, was gained from 1980-84, during which time he was the commander of the western division of the Garfield County Sheriff's Office.
His most recent job in law enforcement was at CU, which he left in the early 1990s after the pressures of the job mounted, he said.
"Everyone needs a break from law enforcement," he said.
Wurl moved to Snowmass Village three months ago. Before that he lived in Glenwood Springs and had commuted to Snowmass, where he worked for Aspen-Snowmass Hospitality's parking and trash services. He's currently unemployed.
A culmination of personal events prompted him to eye the sheriff's post, namely his divorce from his wife of 40 years, he said.
Wurl does not appear to be a harsh critic of the current administration of the sheriff's office. He said he knows both Braudis and his predecessor, the late Dick Keinast, from his time here in the '70s.
But he said there are some areas where the sheriff's office seems too set in its ways.
"I think it's time that the sheriff's department re-evaluates what they do," he said. "Times have changed."
More proactive involvement with the bear problem and fewer deputies on staff are changes Wurl said he would like to implement.
One hot-button issue in the sheriff's race is drug enforcement. Like Braudis and Keinast, Wurl said he would not advocate for undercover work by the sheriff's office. He differs from them, however, because he supports undercover work when it's used by the Drug Enforcement Agency. He said as sheriff, he would strive to have a more cooperative role with the DEA.
"I think Bob and the sheriff's office here have done a great job, but I would hope we could be more involved in schedule I [cocaine, heroin, etc.] enforcement," he said. "I would reiterate to the deputy sheriffs that their duties are to enforce the law of the state of Colorado."
Wurl said he has no problems with the state's existing medical marijuana laws.
The new candidate also said deputies need to spend less time on the roads seeking traffic violators and more time going after the real criminals. He recognized that while Pitkin County is safe, "you can't be fooled here."
"There are some serious bad guys that come here," he said, noting that he believes theft to be the chief criminal problem in the county, mainly because of its affluent residents.
Wurl said his greatest asset as a lawman is his detective work. In the past, he cracked all types of cases, from purse thieves to bank robbers.
He said he sees DiSalvo, who has received Braudis' endorsement, as his biggest threat.
"He's the man to beat," he said. "And he's got a history with the department."
Even so, Wurl said he believes he'd make a good sheriff.
"I love this place. I was raised here and I just love it. I think I've proved over the years that I can provide good law enforcement for the community."