ASPEN - There's no mistaking sheriff candidates Joe DiSalvo and Rick Leonard know where each other stands on the issues. On Thursday in Aspen's City Council chambers, they made sure of that.
The two lawmen faced off in the second Squirm Night of this election season, rehashing their positions and philosophies of how the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office needs to be run in the aftermath of the Bob Braudis era, which began in 1987 and ends in January.
Both candidates stayed true to their platforms.
DiSalvo, 50, said he believes the sheriff's department needs little more than some fine-tuning and not much more.
"It would be really crazy of me to come in and start making sweeping changes," he said. "That would set us back 10 years."
Leonard, however, argued for a seemingly major overhaul, the overall objective being a more aggressive approach toward law enforcement.
Leonard, 54, a lawman who worked in both New York and Florida before retiring to the valley 41⁄2 years ago, said there's a misperception that he would not be an effective rural sheriff because of his geographic past.
"I don't accept the notion that someone can't come from a big-city background and be effective in a smaller community," he said.
DiSalvo, meanwhile, said the most significant changes he would implement at the sheriff's office would be borne out of keeping pace with technology. From creating cell-phone coverage in rural backcountry areas to enhancing the department's information technology, the 24-year veteran of local law enforcement said the sheriff's office needs to stay with the times.
"When it comes to technology we need to keep moving into the next decade," he said.
The two candidates spent a good chunk of time debating their philosophies toward enforcing drug laws.
Leonard suggested that the sheriff's office has a passive approach to drug-law enforcement, chiefly because it does not act on anonymous tips.
"I think you would be hard pressed to find another law enforcement agency that would not accept an anonymous complaint" about drug dealing activity, Leonard said. "Most law enforcement agencies ... if you call to report someone's dealing drugs, they'll assign it."
He later added: "The reality is they don't do any drug investigations ... That's preposterous. I think because of the very nature of the crime there are threats to people who live around [drug dealers] and families who live around them."
DiSalvo defended the sheriff's office's practices, and noted that it has a good working relationship with the Drug Enforcement Agency, which he said is more apt to handle drug investigations. The sheriff's department, he said, is not adequately equipped for involved drug probes.
"Drug work is expensive, takes an incredible amount of training, and it's dangerous," he said.
Sticking to his platform, DiSalvo said "jail is no use for people who have drug problems." Instead, he said he considers drug abuse a health problem, and added that his department will not focus on people who "fire up a joint or are doing a line" in the privacy of their homes.
Leonard apparently has an uphill battle come the Nov. 2 election.
In the August primary, he collected 341 votes, or 12.1 percent, which was good enough to earn a right to face DiSalvo in the general election. DiSalvo posted a commanding win in August, claiming 2,186 votes, or 77.3 percent.