Getting to know Aspen’s community response officers and the role they play

Aspen Community Response Officer Robert Schafer at the annual Aspen Police Department Bike Auction.
Jami McMannes/Courtesy photo

Police officer or community response officer, that is the question.

For any potential confusion, the role of the community response officer is to enforce municipal codes, offer support on medical calls, and respond to vehicle accidents. 

They also take the lead on all animal complaints, domestic and wildlife, so if any dogs, cats, bears, or moose call the department with complaints of any kind, then CROs have it covered.

But they obviously have a lot more covered than just that.

The Aspen Police Department was established in the 1880s. According to the city’s website, since its inception, the department has remained dedicated to a community policing approach that’s directed through the need for public approbation — a philosophy focused on crime prevention, where the “public are the police and the police members are the public.”

The role of the CRO is very much a reflection of that philosophy. CROs support the police department in triaging, allowing patrol officers to focus on higher priority response.

“Community response division is really focused on building community relationships and community trust, so it’s really great that we have this position at the police department,” said CRO Supervisor Ginna Gordon. “We spend a lot of our time just doing things to help people in the community.”

She said one of the key roles of the CRO is “motorist and citizen assist.” They even go so far as to provide free lockout services in case you should lock your keys in your car, and they’ll even jumpstart your vehicle. So, stop paying for AAA because CROs have got your back.

“It’s a little bit a la carte policing, but it’s great because we get to engage with our community on such an awesome level that’s not just in an enforcement capacity. It’s really engaging people as community helpers,” she said. “That’s really the vision behind the role, and that’s what my team is focused on and what we’re lucky enough to get to do every day.”

CROs work alongside patrol officers to augment and support patrol by providing more specific training to maintain a high level of consistency when it comes to the product of how the community is overall served.

As a first responder, CROs take primary lead on responding to vehicle accidents and are responsible for documentation and writing accident reports but will also partner with patrol if there are concerns of DUIs or other larger issues.

“It really is a partnership, and the CRO is able to focus on the accident investigation itself and allow for the officer to deal with the DUI investigation portion,” Gordon said.

She has worked for the police department for seven years and has served for five years with the Community Response Division. Aspen currently has five officers, with her serving as the supervisor, but if you feel like there should be six, seven, or eight, you’re in luck because the Community Response Division is hiring

“We like to hire people with a community service background,” she said. “You don’t have to have any experience in law enforcement. We’re really looking for the person who loves interacting with the community, loves engaging, and can be passionate about the job and the work here in serving our community and making it a better place.”

Potential candidates go through a robust 10-week training program involving everything from crisis intervention accident investigation, interview techniques, incident command system, animal control, emergency driving, and other duty-specific training — all alongside patrol officers in training, as well.

While the CRO plays many roles in assisting the community, there are limitations to what they are allowed to do. For instance, CROs are always unarmed and do not have power of arrest, which extends to being prohibited from making traffic stops, as well.

Gordon said sometimes it can confuse the public because a CRO could be on the scene as something occurs and won’t be able to directly interact as a patrol officer would be able to. 

But as she explained, while it might not seem as though immediate action is being taken, the CROs are well-trained and equipped to communicate any situation to the appropriate responder.

“It’s hard for the community because they see you with lights and sirens, and they wonder, ‘Why isn’t she doing anything?'” she said. “We just can’t legally do a car stop on someone, but the reality is that Aspen is so small that our response times are really quick, and people with the proper equipment to intervene are going to be en route, so the best thing that we can do is air it, make our needs very clear, and get those right resources in there.”

Still not sure who to call?

Luckily, it doesn’t matter so much because the only number you really need to know for non-emergency calls is dispatch at 970-920-5400. And just in case you forgot, emergency dispatch is still 911.

“Our dispatch and our front office are trained to know which call needs to go to which department,” Gordon said. “I don’t think anyone should be concerned about who to call because we’ll get them in touch with the right person when they contact us.”