COVID plan allows local police to cope in staffing crisis |

COVID plan allows local police to cope in staffing crisis

Upper Roaring Fork Valley law enforcement joining forces during pandemic

Law enforcement agencies in the Upper Roaring Fork Valley have each other’s back.

An agreement worked out in the early days of the pandemic among police in Aspen, Snowmass Village and Basalt, as well as the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, ensures that no shift will go uncovered if COVID-19-related illness, isolation or quarantine spreads one agency too thin, officials said recently.

“If they need more cops, they call me and it’s my job to go and find police officers,” said Brian Olson, chief of the Snowmass Village Police Department, who came up with the plan.

The parameters include being able to plug small holes if one particular department is hit hard by the COVID-19 virus, as well as create an Upper Roaring Fork Valley police department from available resources that crosses jurisdictional lines in the event more than one department goes down, he said.

“We have not had to put the plan into place in any form yet,” Olson said Friday.

That is mainly because each law enforcement agency in the upper valley has been following particular COVID-related protocols since the spring.

Snowmass Village initially placed officers in pairs and instructed them not to interact with fellow officers. Aspen police have a large, new building on Main Street to spread out officers and have encouraged them not to hang out together.

Pitkin County deputies have been told to steer clear of the sheriff’s offices in the county Administration Building as much as possible, which generally works out because they have to patrol 1,100 square miles.

“We have taken a hard line,” Pitkin County Undersheriff Alex Burchetta said. “We have to maintain the integrity of our staff (and our) system. The potential to spread the virus within our ranks is too great.”

But because the plan has not been instituted does not mean there haven’t been issues.

Seven dispatchers at the county’s 911 call center were out for 14 days recently because of COVID-related issues, Burchetta said. However, the center’s director, Brett Loeb, was able to work the schedule in a way that avoided calling in reinforcements, he said.

None of the other agencies have come close to requiring assistance, officials said. Otherwise, all officers and deputies wear masks when around others, practice social distancing and have tweaked procedures where appropriate. Deputies and offices no longer accompany paramedics on Aspen-area ambulance calls, for example.

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