‘Dick Dove’ leaves legacy on local law enforcement
Dick Kienast, the former Pitkin County sheriff whose department was known as “Dick Dove and the Deputies of Love,” died Saturday from complications that occurred during heart bypass surgery.
Kienast suffered a stroke during surgery at a Denver hospital and had been in a coma since March 8, according to his family. He was 64 years old. Services will be held Friday. (See his obituary on page 6.)
Kienast was legendary for ushering out a traditional small-town, red-necked law enforcement style in the mid-1970s and replacing it with one of the more liberal approaches in the country. He gained national attention about 25 years ago when “60 Minutes,” the CBS television news magazine, did a piece on his refusal to work with federal undercover drug agents.
He was elected in a landslide in a six-candidate special election held in 1976 because the previous sheriff was removed from office. He won re-election in 1978 by a much narrower margin after drastically overhauling the sheriff’s department, then won again in 1982.
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Although there were no mass firings of deputies, Kienast instituted a “humanistic” approach that immediately forced turnover in the department. Shotgun-toting muscular men with crew cuts and quasi-military uniforms were steadily replaced by “a bunch of long-haired, ski bum freaks,” according to current Sheriff Bob Braudis.
Braudis was one of those freaks. He was hired on March 3, 1977. He knew nothing about law enforcement but quickly embraced the approach promoted by his highly educated, humanitarian, “New Agey” leader.
Kienast personally oversaw hiring in the department. He wanted people from all walks of life rather than career law enforcement officers.
“He never capitulated. He never backed down,” said Braudis. “He basically rang the bell and said ‘There’s a new sheriff in town.'”
Laurie White, the current undersheriff, was another of the deputies hired by Kienast. She had just moved to Colorado and had no law enforcement training when she was hired by Kienast in 1977.
His theory was that the police would be more like “peace keepers” who were known in the community and who could be approached by citizens to help solve problems.
“He threw us all in to a pot and stirred it up,” said White.
She credits him with giving her the confidence and the opportunity to make a career in a field she had never imagined entering. “He just meant the world to me,” White said.
In the bigger picture, White said Kienast “really changed the face of law enforcement in Pitkin County – from what we wore to what we drove and the way we were trained.”
Blue jeans were welcomed. Taxpayer dollars in the department’s training budget paid entry fees to John Denver’s feel-good “Choices for the Future” symposiums.
Joe Edwards, a former Pitkin County commissioner who brought radical growth-control measures to Aspen at the same time Kienast was overhauling law enforcement, said the time was ripe for the refreshing change.
Shortly after Kienast moved to Aspen in 1968, he befriended Hunter S. Thompson and shared a disdain for the good-old-boy network that ran the politics. They plotted overthrow with Thompson’s bid for sheriff in 1970.
“When Hunter ran for sheriff, if he would have been elected Dick was going to be his undersheriff,” said Christie Kienast, Dick’s ex-wife.
Thompson came a lot closer than anyone imagined to winning election, Edwards noted. That greased the skids for Kienast.
Kienast lost his first bid, in 1974, but won election with nearly four times as many votes as his nearest competitor in 1976.
“I think the whole community was sick and tired of the heavy-handed police work,” Edwards said. “I think Dick had a sense that he would win.
“He really didn’t have any experience at it, but he did a damn good job.”
Not that there weren’t bumps in the road.
The year that Kienast took office, the sheriff’s office suffered the embarrassment of serial killer Ted Bundy’s escape when he jumped from a second-story window in the courthouse. He was caught after Aspen sat in terror for eight days.
Right-wingers fueled a campaign to unseat Kienast in the November 1978 election. Critics hung the “Dick Dove and the Deputies of Love” label on the department, but his disciples and his supporters embraced what was supposed to be an insult.
Braudis, who handled Kienast’s campaign, admitted that they all thought they were goners because the campaign of challenger Roy Griffith was so much better funded and organized. But Kienast prevailed by a vote of 2,010 to 1,711.
His national exposure for his department’s refusal to undertake undercover drug stings came during his first full term, something that hogged the spotlight and overshadowed many other important policy changes, according to Braudis.
“Unfortunately, a lot of Dick’s notoriety came from that one event, but he wasn’t a one-trick pony,” said Braudis.
Kienast won big in his 1982 re-election effort but didn’t seek another term in 1986, clearing the way for Braudis. Kienast moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1987 with a goal of sailing the globe, something he didn’t do. He returned to Aspen about four years ago and held a variety of jobs, most recently with the U.S. Post Office.
Kienast’s imprint remains on the sheriff’s department, with Braudis and White in the top two spots. Several other deputies hired by Kienast hold prominent positions: Keith Ikeda is the Basalt police chief; Fred Gannett is an Eagle County judge.
But the biggest imprint Kienast left is ingrained now in philosophy, according to Edwards.
“The law enforcement around here, in my book, has been conducted the way it ought to be everywhere,” Edwards said.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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