John Colson: Hit and Run |

John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

And then there were three.

The job of being Pitkin County’s top law enforcement official is now being sought by three men, each of whom has a particular set of credentials, philosophical baggage and other attributes that undoubtedly will be presented to the voters in different ways over the coming months.

Just to be pedantic about it, the three men are the current undersheriff, Joe DiSalvo, who also is the hand-picked successor endorsed by current Sheriff Bob Braudis; an Aspen cop named Rick Magnuson, who tried to knock Braudis out of the job four years ago and failed spectacularly; and a man who only moved into the county two years ago, Patrick “Rick” Leonard of Basalt.

Now , in the interests of full disclosure, I have to point out here that Braudis and I have been good friends and kindred spirits for nearly three decades, and I have known DiSalvo for well over 20 years. And, while Joe’s and my spirits are not quite as tightly aligned as Bob’s and mine, we see the world in similar terms overall. Most importantly, he has Bob’s backing, and that’s a big plus for him when it comes to this election.

As for the new guy in the race, Rick Leonard, I don’t know him at all, other than what I’ve read in the newspapers (another note in the interest of disclosure – I’m writing this column from my mother’s house in Wisconsin, where I’m visiting for a couple of weeks).

And from what I’ve read, I’m not at all sure the guy is a good fit for Pitkin County.

For one thing, he’s only lived in the county for two years, which would not qualify him to be hired as a deputy by the same department he hopes to lead.

Let me explain.

Braudis, and Dick Kienast before him, has relied on a hiring philosophy that looks first, last and foremost at locals who are interested in becoming deputies, rather than at experienced cops from other places who are interested in becoming locals. The idea is that locals have a more intrinsic understanding of the area, the people who make up the population, the sometimes quirky political threads that are woven together to form the fabric of the community, that sort of thing.

Whereas cops trained in metro environments such as, say, New York and Florida – where Leonard cut his teeth – tend to bring the trappings, attitudes and mores of those urban-style departments with them.

And a large part of those attitudes, in my experience from living in urban areas before moving to central Colorado, can be summed up in short order.

Cops in urban areas tend to view themselves as a culture apart from the communities they are supposed to serve, to the detriment of both the cops themselves and the people at large. They often are overly militaristic in their approach to the world around them.

Cops also tend to see the world in the same black-and-white terms that has come to characterize their most common style of uniform and their squad cars. “Black-and-whites,” indeed, is perhaps the most common shorthand expression for “cop,” except for the deputies in Pitkin County, who wear green shirts and drive white SUVs.

In his initial statements to the press, Leonard has pointed proudly at his service record in urban, high-crime areas, which is another sign that he simply doesn’t have a deep feel for the county he hopes to represent. The crime rate is low, the kinds of crime encountered are rural in nature, not urban (which is not to say, in any way, that crimes here should not be countered by effective police work), and we like a more easy-going brand of law enforcement in most situations.

Pitkin County is different, and most of us seem comfortable with what Leonard derided as our sheriff’s unwillingness to “play well with others,” meaning hew to the law enforcement policies and philosophies of nearby, more conservative jurisdictions.

So, for the above stated reasons, I wonder if Leonard has what it takes to run our sheriff’s department – including an innate sense of compassion and a broad understanding of justice that does not fit the standard mold; the intestinal fortitude to make the tough calls and get the job done when things get ugly; and the intelligence to know which approach fits the needs of the moment.


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