Basalt police chief remembers the hippies, Bundy and small-town life
The hippies drifted to Basalt’s Midland Bar. The Fryingpan lassoed the cowboys. And the hard-rock miners dug the Aspenalt Lounge.
Every now and then, back in the wild days of 1977 and ’78, a fight erupted when the groups spilled out of their favorite drinking holes and onto Midland Avenue at closing time.
“We had an agreement that if it was broken up by the time we turned the corner and no one was bleeding, we’d leave ’em alone,” recalled Jim Stryker, one of two cops in town at the time.
That easygoing approach marked the 14 years Stryker spent with the Basalt Police Department, the last eight as the chief.
Stryker, 61, will hang up his badge May 31, to the surprise of many in the town. Stryker was a fixture in 1977 and ’78 and again since 1988. He left for a decade in between stints in town because the job didn’t pay enough.
One fella, who qualified as one of the hippies in 1977, stopped when he saw Stryker in Town Hall Wednesday and expressed his surprise after reading about his retirement.
“You don’t know how hard it is to train a cop,” the passerby quipped, then asked what Stryker plans to do.
“Maybe I’ll get a real job,” Stryker said.
“Maybe we’ll get a real cop,” the fella shot back.
It was probably only half in jest. Stryker’s tough on crime and all that, particularly on DUIs. But he also likes Basalt and the people in and around town and couldn’t exactly be described as heavy-handed.
“I think I treated people like I wanted to be treated,” he said. “I always realized that people could have bad days.”
He sought voluntary compliance through a stiff verbal warning. “You get one gimmie, next time you’re mine,” he said. He expected people to face the consequences with dignity when they committed a crime.
There are a fair share of Basaltines that he’s busted that he gets along with just fine now. He gave some of the cops in his department their first tickets as high-schoolers. And he’s dealing with the teenage kids of some parents he dealt with in the ’70s.
Some people have even thanked him, believe it or not, for making an arrest that sent them to jail. They said it straightened their lives out.
One of the stranger cases he worked involved a bank robbery in Carbondale in the ’70s. A group of boys held up the bank there, but one in the gang was busted when he tried to deposit some of the loot in the Basalt branch of the same bank.
Turns out the boy had received a car loan in Basalt on the condition that he supply some of the funds. He didn’t have the money so he robbed another bank. The cash he took from Carbondale was traced when he tried to deposit it in Basalt.
Ted Bundy was responsible for probably the longest shift that Stryker ever worked. After the notorious killer jumped from a Pitkin County Courthouse window, Stryker was asked to set up a roadblock, which he did at the Old Snowmass Conoco. He manned the checkpoint on Highway 82 alone from about 11 a.m. one day until relief arrived at 4 a.m. the next morning.
Then he had to patrol while Basalt feared Terrible Ted was on the prowl.
But it’s none of the big crimes or odd arrests that he will miss most. Instead he’ll miss the simple pleasure of driving around and exchanging waves, conversations or a few bad jokes with the people he knows and loves.
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Posted: Friday, March 2, 2001
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