Longtime Aspen Police Chief Pryor says he’ll retire in December | AspenTimes.com

Longtime Aspen Police Chief Pryor says he’ll retire in December

Richard Pryor’s advice to rookie Aspen officers is a reflection of the calm-natured disposition he has held as the city’s chief of police for nearly 15 years.

“The job can be challenging so it’s important to keep hold of that sense of self and what makes you a good human being,” he said in a telephone interview. “It is a challenging career.”

Pryor’s career in Aspen law enforcement has covered more than half of his life. Now 56, Pryor announced Thursday he will retire in December. By that time he will have accumulated 29 years with the Aspen Police Department, including his last decade and a half as chief.

He’s the longest-serving police chief in Aspen history, cutting his teeth in law enforcement as a community safety officer responding to traffic incidents and wildlife calls. That experience whetted his appetite for more opportunities in community law enforcement, and in 1996 he graduated from the police academy to continue his ascent through the ranks. He was named police chief in 2007, following stints as assistant police chief, sergeant and patrol officer with the APD.

“It’s an exciting time for me, for my family, and for the Aspen community,” Pryor said in statement. “I’ve been with the Aspen Police Department since 1994 and in that time, I’ve seen the department and the community grow around the ‘community policing’ philosophy.”

In the meantime, the city’s search for a new police chief will include a professional recruiter and an open community meeting with the finalists this fall, according to a press release. The city manager is responsible for making the hire, with the confirmation of Aspen City Council.

Richard Pryor
Courtesy photo

The soft-spoken Pryor grew up in England and hasn’t lost his dialect. He and his wife, Pip, plan to return England and live in a rural setting.

“I’m tempted to do some part-time labor – ditch-digging, hedge cutting and the sorts,” Pryor said in statement. “I’m looking forward to living off the grid for a bit.”

During Pryor’s time as police chief, the department relocated from the Pitkin County Courthouse basement down the block to a new, larger and modernized headquarters on East Main Street in 2018.

He also was instrumental in the formation of the Pitkin Area Co-Responder Team — comprising the Aspen and Snowmass Village police departments and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office — in 2017. The diversion program, called PACT for short, was formed to keep people plagued by mental health issues or with substance abuse out of jail. Through PACT, mental health co-responders have worked with law enforcement to line up those struggling with resources and support.

Pryor also has worked to destigmatize mental health struggles so that they are viewed through a nonjudgmental lens.

“It’s become a bit more normalized, but we’re still battling with that perception,” he said.

Calls are also on the rise.

“We’re seeing an increase in mental health calls and responses,” he said. “It is kind of a community policing shift.”

High-profile criminal events frequently hit Aspen — like when Jim Blanning threatened to blow up downtown’s banks on New Year’s Eve 2008 or when Charlie Sheen was arrested on an assault charge on Christmas Day 2009. What stands out in Pryor’s memory, however, are those positive outcomes with struggling individuals.

“You could list a number of big things” Pryor said, “but the things that you remember are related to how you impacted a person for the good and the better. It’s those sort of things that really end up standing out for you.”

Pryor said that the department’s approach toward community policing, which is where officers are ingrained in their community and focus on solving problems, should be the norm everywhere.

“How else do you police?” he said. “In an ideal world … it’s how you try and help people learn how to take care of themselves.”

In the press release, Pryor said: “We’ve worked really hard to find the right people for the positions with the department. There isn’t a magic recipe. It takes persistence, intention, and focus. Real-life experience really helps when it comes to being a good fit as a police officer in Aspen.”

City Manager Sara Ott also praised Pryor for his community service.

“Richard has been a pillar of our community for many years,” she said. “I admire his professionalism, compassion, leadership and determination to deliver police services in a uniquely Aspen way. Community policing in Aspen is different from nearly every other community — a testament to Richard’s and the department staff’s keen listening and responsiveness to the town’s needs and expectations.”



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