ASPEN - Dirty Harry he's not.
Aspen's newest cop, Ritchie Zah, has a background in classical music and is an accomplished violinist. The Juilliard School graduate likes to work with kids. He's an advocate of the community-policing style that the Aspen Police Department and Chief Richard Pryor emphasize.
He even proposed to his girlfriend earlier this week inside a Snowmass gondola car because he was worried that he would drop the engagement ring in the snow.
For his part, Zah, 25, knows he didn't make his way into law enforcement the way most other policemen do.
"I was a little worried at first, like I wouldn't fit in," he said. "But the guys at the Police Department really have made me feel so welcome. They were telling me, 'Your background is unlike ours, so it's really valuable. You have some experience that we can learn from.' I really am grateful for that and for them to be able to look past my different background."
Make no mistake, Zah is ready for the job.
The Atlanta-area native recently graduated from the Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs. There, he received nearly four months of intensive preparation, learning pressure-point arrest-control tactics, field sobriety detection and weapons use, among other useful tools.
"I'm still in the field-training process," he said. "My main duties are that of a patrolman. Later, there might be some opportunities to individualize my role within the department."
Zah first came to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2004 as an Aspen Music Festival and School student. Since then, he's been coming to Aspen every year. For the past few summers, he has served as an instructor for the school's six-year-old Passes and Lessons program, which provides 11- to 18-year-old students from across the valley with season passes to the eight-week festival along with a series of free music lessons.
He had a couple of different influences on the road to becoming a cop. His younger brother, a Georgia state patrolman, also is a Juilliard graduate. He also credited Pryor, who suggested during the summer that Zah put in an application to work in his department.
"As a kid, I always wanted to be a police officer," Zah said. "What attracted me the most, and I talked about this with my brother, is that as a musician you are helping people. People ask you for requests. You bring a lot of happiness to them.
"With law enforcement, what my brother was saying is you also help a lot of people. Sometimes people aren't having a good day, and you come and help them out, you fix a flat tire or something like that, and it makes their day, just like music does."
Zah said the community-policing style taught at the police academy in Glenwood Springs solidified his commitment.
"They teach us to help and not to hurt and to really listen," he said. "The academy instructor there, John Goodwin, the former Aspen police chief, taught us about the 'reservoir of good will,' and it's our responsibility as police officers to fill that. You have to do what you can to give back instead of fitting that stereotype that a lot of people think about police officers."
Zah has not abandoned music. After Juilliard, he applied for various openings with symphony orchestras in a few cities, but the competition was fierce. The economy in Georgia wasn't so good, and he wanted health care and other benefits, so he started to think about other opportunities.
He said he'll continue to stay involved in music by teaching kids, writing arrangements and playing in small groups that cover popular music using classical instruments.
Zah recently formed a quintet called Fourzah Strings. Their YouTube cover of Carly Rae Jespen's pop hit "Call Me Maybe" is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RGMYqUYSYk.
By the way, Zah's girlfriend, whom he met while they were both Aspen Music School students and living in the Marolt Ranch housing complex, said "yes" to the marriage proposal. He drove her to the Denver airport Thursday so that she could catch a flight back to Austin, where she is pursuing a doctorate in violin performance at the University of Texas.
They have not set a date.