On the Job: Safety, not hard crime, the focus of Snowmass policing
August 17, 2014
Editor's note: "On the Job" is a series that profiles locals and the work they do. It runs every other week in The Aspen Times.
For Snowmass Village police, most of the work is geared toward public safety, communications and traffic management that comes with a resort town, as opposed to dealing with hard crime on a daily basis.
Brian Olson, who was named chief of police July 1, said the more people who are in town in a given time, the more attention the officers need to pay, as well. The officers don't have to respond to a lot of crime, but if they do, it's usually drinking-related — either in the form of domestic violence, car accidents or criminal mischief such as theft.
"The nighttime crowd keeps us busy," Olson said. "People who drink probably account for the majority of our criminal contacts."
Still, that's a small percentage of the guests and residents in their jurisdiction, which is everything in town limits, including Wildcat Ranch and the ski area. Snowmass police respond to incidents on the hill if patrollers need help de-escalating a situation with a skier or if there is a violation of law, including town ordinances that mirror the Ski Safety Act.
The Police Department also has its share of welfare checks, for both mental-health and substance-abuse issues. The officers make welfare checks once or twice a week, Olson said.
For people who love living in the mountains, "it's hard to believe that people struggle so much" here, Olson said, recalling a murder-suicide.
He also recalled an accidental shooting death in Snowmass.
"When we lose someone like that, … you look back at those kids, and you wish they had gotten to grow up here," Olson said. "In a small town, it's difficult."
The Snowmass officers are able to adjust well to untimely deaths, though, he said.
"We have a great sense of humor in-house, and I think that helps quite a bit," he said.
The officers are trained in firearms and defensive tactics to try to prevent injuries during an arrest. In addition, all of the Snowmass police officers are specialized in certain areas.
"Those trainings are standard," Olson said. "The physical stuff we have to stay on top of. Driving is another high liability."
These days, it's more desk work than patrol for Olson, who's been a Snowmass officer for 27 years. The chief would like to get out there more, but he says the town is in good hands with the officers he has on staff, many of whom also have worked there for a long time.
Olson credits that to hiring people who live in the village — six out of the eight current employees are residents — or have a strong connection to it, such as experience working at the ski area.
Resort policing is unique in the type of people whom the Snowmass officers serve.
"The clientele we get to deal with are well-educated, well-adjusted and happy," Olson said. "We don't have to deal with the real down and dirty."
A new challenge for the police officers is managing special events because Snowmass is starting to have more and larger ones throughout the year. The police help special-event organizers with planning for operations, security, transportation, medical needs and crowd management. If an event involves alcohol, the officers usually have a presence at it, too.
It's extra work, but Olson knows he's lucky to have that kind of job.
"I look at my counterparts. … I'm blessed that we're dealing with special events and not holding up shields," he said.