On the Job: Offseason an odd time for Aspen cops
November 8, 2013
Editor's note: "On the Job" is a series profiling locals and the work they do, and runs every other Thursday in The Aspen Times.
The Rampart Division of the Los Angeles Police Department covers 8 square miles just west of the city's downtown area. In the 1990s, more than 30 gangs were spread between neighborhoods Echo Park, Pico-Union and Westlake. It's where Sgt. Chip Seamans, now in Aspen, did some of his first police work.
"It was very different," Seamans said of his move from the LAPD to the Aspen Police Department in 2001. "It was learning a whole new approach."
While in Los Angeles, Seamans grew used to getting the one-finger salute or gang signs. In Aspen, he said, "It was kind of fun to have people wave at me with their entire hand."
“I don’t know if it’s that the locals kind of go sideways or if the moon just finds its place; we always seem to have interesting calls.”
Officer Chip Seamans
Aspen Police Department
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Like Seamans, many of the officers at the APD have unique backgrounds. One of the newest hires, Officer Ritchie Zah, is a Juilliard-trained violist. Also employed with the APD is architect Brian Stevens, an officer who is involved with the department's pending relocation from its space in the county courthouse on Galena Street. And there's Officer Terry Leitch, a former federal prison corrections officer, who spent his October working graveyard shifts.
By 2 a.m. on Oct. 31, the APD had netted three calls. One apparently inebriated individual was escorted out of the Regal Aspen nightclub and sent home to Snowmass in a taxi. Another drunken man was found knocking on a stranger's door off Cemetery Lane.
Leitch said rogue individuals are common in Aspen and, in many cases, the person in question finds a way into the wrong home, prompting trespassing charges, whether they are aware of what they are doing or not. In this case, the man was told to move along.
"It's not offseason for us," Leitch said. "There may be less volume of people, but there are still people doing stupid shit."
Seamans said the offseason is when the department fields the strangest calls.
"It's usually the screwiest part of the year," Seamans said. "I don't know if it's that the locals kind of go sideways or if the moon just finds its place; we always seem to have interesting calls."
A good example, he said, came on Sept. 13, when 24-year-old Aspenite James Reagan led police up Maroon Creek Road, claiming he was armed and ready for a shootout, an incident that led to a 15-minute lockdown at the nearby Aspen School District campus. For some of the on-duty officers that day, he said, it was the first time they had taken their finger from the rail of the gun and put it on the trigger.
"In a lot of jurisdictions in this country, that guy would have been dead," Seamans said, despite the fact that Reagan was found unarmed. "It was a suicide-by-cop attempt."
Along with alcohol- and drug-related domestic disputes, Aspen has many issues with mental illness, Seamans said.
"A community like this, you just notice it more. It's more glaring," he said, recalling New Year's Eve in 2008, when the APD discovered two homemade gasoline bombs at two Aspen banks, as well as two more in alleyways. The culprit was a longtime local Jim Blanning, who was disgruntled about the state of modern Aspen.
Situations like that are part of the reason Seamans is glad the APD is trained quarterly in firearm and defense-tactic training. In Los Angeles, he said, cops require less training because they get reps every day, while dealing with drug dealers and gang bangers.
Seamans said he does miss the action of Los Angeles. In Aspen, he's more likely to encounter a bear than a murderer, which for most people, would be just fine. But Seamans said he would rather deal with gangsters than bears.
"Those bastards (bears) are stealthy," Seamans said. "There's some great comedy, but that's after the fact."
Seamans regards 2009 as the worst year for bear calls in Aspen. Almost every night, he found himself inside a house with a beanbag gun and a bear.
One moment that stands out was a call to an East End residence. Seamans was with Officer Forrest Barnett on a bear call. When Barnett flipped on the lights, they stood face-to-face with a bear occupying the width of two French doors. They hid behind a Jacuzzi and called wildlife officials for aid.
While Seamans said he hates bear calls, Stevens said he enjoys them. He said that throughout the season, a patroller gets to know the various bears and their personalities.
He, along with Seamans, Leitch and seven other officers, worked Halloween this year. For the most part, calls were alcohol- and medical-related.
"Halloween is it's own animal," said Stevens, who patrolled Aspen until 3 a.m. "People in this town like Halloween. They like dressing up. … It was basically the opposite of a typical offseason night."