City drug policy remains the same
Aspen leaders kept their policy on enforcing drug laws intact Tuesday, although plenty of residents and officials sounded off about what should or should not change.The Aspen City Council, at a public meeting that lasted more than five hours, rejected a proposal to give City Manager Steve Barwick oversight of large-scale drug enforcement operations. And it discarded suggestions that the city should strongly state its resistance to undercover drug investigations.But council members concluded, after a sometimes heated debate Tuesday night, that the city’s 13-year-old policy regarding enforcement of drug laws contains “inconsistencies,” in the words of Councilman Torre. They directed Barwick to rework it and bring it back for further consideration. Barwick also said he would report to the council on how much money the police department spent on the operation.The City Council, along with officers of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and about 100 residents, debated the drug policies and enforcement tactics from 4 to nearly 9:30 p.m. The meeting was in response to public discussion about a major drug raid at two popular downtown restaurants Dec. 2.Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson said his officers joined forces with the DEA after learning that both agencies were investigating allegations of drug dealing at Cooper Street Pier, which later broadened to include Little Annie’s Eating House. He has said the investigation started after police efforts to work with the bar owners failed to stop the dealing.But Cooper Street Pier manager Charles Wolf said this week that his last talk with police on the subject was in 2001, when former Police Chief Joe Cortez was in command. And Little Annie’s Manager Ron Fleming said at the Tuesday meeting that no one ever talked to him about drug dealing out of his kitchen.
Residents’ comments were wide-ranging.Some declared strong support for Ryerson in general and for the Dec. 2 raid, which was based on DEA undercover work and involved more than 50 officers and agents of local, state and federal agencies. Some also called for the police department to step up anti-drug activity.”Regardless of the methodology, I’m glad we sent a tough message,” said Aspen resident Art Daily, a sentiment that a number of people at the meeting supported. Others were highly critical of the raids and of Ryerson’s willingness to work with outside agencies such as the DEA. One man said Ryerson had lied more than once in the aftermath of the raids.”I think there’s some kind of fraud here,” longtime Aspen resident Tim Mooney said. Mooney demanded to hear from Ryerson exactly when he decided to keep Braudis in the dark about the impending raids, a central issue at the Tuesday meeting and in the wider community discussion about the raids.Ryerson earlier had said it was a conscious decision not to involve anybody who was not involved in the operation, including members of his own department, as well as the sheriff’s office, in order to preserve the secrecy of the investigation.”It’s not that I don’t trust my officers, it’s not that I don’t trust the sheriff’s department,” he said, adding that he intended to inform Braudis just before the raids but forgot.
Ryerson told Mooney he had talked with Braudis “months ago” about undercover operations and learned that Braudis wanted no part of such activities, and it was then that Ryerson decided to not inform Braudis about the investigation.Public safety took up a considerable portion of the debate, as well. Some noted that drug abuse itself is a public safety issue and arrests of dealers is one way to cut down drug use.But others criticized the police department for going into two popular local eateries with guns drawn during après-ski time.Ryerson, who has made different statements about whether guns were drawn, said Tuesday that one officer drew his gun in the dining area at Cooper Street Pier and that several guns were drawn in the kitchen at Little Annie’s.He disputed claims by some who were at Little Annie’s that officers pulled guns as they approached a kitchen door but were still in the dining area where two children sat at a table. Numerous residents at the Tuesday meeting maintained that drugs are too easily available in Aspen and said youth drug use is justification for stepped-up enforcement efforts, including undercover work by outside agencies.Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland, however, argued that undercover work goes against “a philosophy in this community that is based on trust and truth-telling. Trust, with kids, is the whole game.”
He said any effort by adults to instruct the young can backfire if they feel the adults are being hypocritical or manipulative.And if you lose that communitywide trust, he said, “You will be in a typical city, where they view the police as an occupying agency.”Council members occasionally turned to the DEA officials in the room for comments and were told the agency has worked well with the police department and hopes to continue to do so.”My guys will be back,” said Jeffrey Sweetin, special agent in charge for the DEA district that covers Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. He told council members that no matter what they decided Tuesday night, “We’re not going to say, ‘OK, Aspen’s off limits.'”Two ideas Torre put forth – to make the police chief’s job an elected position and to appoint a citizen oversight committee to review police operations – were not discussed at the meeting.GrassRoots TV taped the meeting and will show it on Community Government Television Channel 11; scheduling information was not available Tuesday night. For information, call station manager Brad Manosevitz at 925-8000, ext. 3.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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