Chief Ryerson owes Aspen an explanation
December 15, 2005
Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson’s decision to keep the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office in the dark about a massive drug and immigration bust last month is both confounding and disturbing.Why on earth would Ryerson not give his colleagues across the hall – yes, the police department and the sheriff’s office are literally across the hall from each other – a heads-up that more than four dozen armed local, state and federal agents were going to storm two of Aspen’s most popular eateries?Granted, Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis is an outspoken and longtime critic of aggressive policing against drug users and dealers. Had Ryerson informed the sheriff of his department’s plans to spend months investigating small-time, street-level dealers selling cocaine out the back door of a few local restaurants, he might have heard criticism that he didn’t want to hear. But that’s no excuse for keeping the sheriff out of the loop. There is no reason to think the sheriff or his deputies would have undermined the Aspen Police Department’s investigation simply because Braudis is a critic of the war on drugs.Ryerson’s decision not to tell the sheriff of the impending busts – even when he saw him in the hallway on the day of the raid – was a major miscalculation that may well have put armed, unknowing deputies in danger of confrontation with police officers and federal agents. What if a deputy sheriff just happened to be in Little Annie’s at the time of the bust, reached for his gun, and gunfire erupted as a result? No doubt we would be demanding Ryerson’s immediate dismissal.In every election since 1976, county voters – including Aspen residents – have endorsed a community-friendly, mostly hands-off policing style in the county sheriff’s office, first under Dick “Dove” Kienast and then under Bob Braudis. Voters elect guys like Kienast and Braudis because they support their philosophies and want them overseeing law enforcement here. Ryerson’s apparent mistrust of the sheriff’s office is unfortunate but not surprising. Within the past year he has tried to close public access to public records in his department, and has introduced SWAT-team training to the department. That’s not the kind of police department Aspenites are accustomed to.Ryerson owes the public and its elected officials an explanation about the tactics used in the Dec. 2 raid, including his decision to keep the sheriff’s department in the dark. And the City Council then needs to decide if Ryerson’s policing style is right for our community.