Police ride along: Drunks and more drunks
January 3, 2016
If you're an Aspen police officer on patrol after midnight, you're going to be dealing with one thing: drunk people.
And that goes double if you're on patrol after midnight during the peak holiday season, when you better believe that tourists and locals alike are gonna chug-a-lug and let it all hang out.
That was most certainly the case the night after Christmas, when an Aspen Times reporter rode along with Aspen Police Officer Ritchie Zah from just before midnight to a little before 3 a.m.
Zah, 28, has been with Aspen Police Department since 2012, though he's been coming to Aspen since 2008 as a music school student. He is a classically trained violin player with a master's degree from The Juilliard School in New York City who decided to become a cop because he was having trouble paying the bills as a professional musician.
"It seemed like a great way to be part of the community," Zah said.
Aspen police, like their brethren at the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office, practice a kinder, gentler form of policing that emphasizes friendly, community service over the hard-ass, adversarial tactics practiced by other departments. These aren't the guys Bob Dylan was talking about when he said, "The cops don't need you and, man, they expect the same."
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It was a bitterly cold night in Aspen when Zah climbed behind the wheel of his patrol vehicle just before midnight and fired up the heater. Not long after, a dispatcher's voice came over the radio with a report of an intoxicated man at Rubey Park who security had not allowed on a bus to Snowmass Village.
Zah entered the waiting area at Rubey Park, where a young man in his early 20s sat with his head in his hands and a small garbage can at his feet. Beside the garbage can on the floor was a pile of brown vomit.
Officers Andy Atkinson and Forrest Barnett also responded. The three officers stood around the clearly intoxicated young man and explained he wasn't in trouble and that they wanted to make sure he made it home safely. They asked if he had a sober friend who might be able to pick him up and take him home, but he said his roommates were out of town.
The officers told him they might have to take him to a detox facility because they couldn't leave him alone for his own safety. Finally, he was able to call a friend, who showed up quickly to help his friend home.
"I appreciate it," the young man told the cops as he stumbled out with his friend. "Sorry, guys."
Next came a report of a domestic disturbance near City Market. Zah and Atkinson met the man who called 911 on the street outside his girlfriend's apartment building. The man, who was clearly intoxicated, said he was trying to break up with his girlfriend when she became upset, took his glasses and refused to let him leave the apartment.
The girlfriend had bipolar disorder, and the man said he was worried things might get out control if he didn't call police. The officers talked to the woman on the phone, determined the situation was not serious and Atkinson gave the man a ride to his house.
The radio crackled again, this time with a report of a man causing a disturbance at Rubey Park. Zah arrived soon after, but the man was gone. A Roaring Fork Transportation Authority security guard said the man was a jerk, but not drunk.
Zah continued cruising around the city until he came on a Ford Explorer that was running at the corner of Galena and Hopkins. He asked the smoker crowd outside the Rec Room whose car it was, but no one knew. A minute or two later, a Rec Room security member came outside and said he'd been running the heater in the vehicle because he'd had to take his dog to work that night and it was cold outside.
Next came a report of person in a red Toyota 4Runner driving off from Local's Corner without paying for gas. Another officer stopped a car fitting the description, but it wasn't the right person.
Then the bars let out.
Herds of drunk people began making their way toward Rubey Park. Zah cruised up Galena slowly along with the crowd. One aggravated young man kicked a trash can.
"Hey, is it really necessary to kick the trash can?" Zah asked.
"F— you," came the response.
Zah took the insult in stride and watched the man cross the street in front of the patrol car, then cross the street again.
"You lost, buddy?" Zah asked.
The man approached the patrol car window belligerently. His friends tried to get him to back off. Zah extended his hand, "I'm Ritchie," he said. The man grudgingly shook it.
Driving away a few minutes later, Zah said, "It's the alcohol talking. I get called all kinds of names. All kinds of racial names."
Many people approached the police car after bar time and asked for a ride home. Zah said officers will give rides if they can. One man received a Tipsy Taxi voucher while others, including two drunk Australian girls who offered a bag of tortilla chips in exchange for a ride, had to fend for themselves.
Then, while stopped at the stop sign at Hunter and Durant at the base of Aspen Mountain, Zah noticed a man in the middle of the street who appeared to be talking to the driver of a car stopped at the opposite stop sign. The man then climbed into the backseat of the car.
It looked a little weird, so Zah turned around the corner and stopped next to the car. The driver, a man in his early 20s, looked up, realized it was a cop car next to him, rolled down the window and said, "Hey, can you help me with this guy who just climbed into my back seat?"
Zah got the man to get out of the car, but he immediately started to get into the back seat of Zah's car.
"Whoa, whoa, just a second," Zah said to the man.
This man was probably in his 40s and extremely drunk. Despite the fact that it was zero degrees outside by this point, the man wore no coat and seemed oblivious as to where he was. However, he was able to give his name and an address in Mountain Valley, and Zah gave him a ride home.
All in a night's work.