Pitkin County sheriff candidate touts his 22 years as a lawman | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County sheriff candidate touts his 22 years as a lawman

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Patrick "Rick" Leonard

ASPEN – A retired law officer who moved to Basalt two years ago said he’s not intimidated by taking on the establishment to try to win election as Pitkin County sheriff.

Patrick “Rick” Leonard entered the race last week, joining Joe DiSalvo and Rick Magnuson. DiSalvo is the current undersheriff and the candidate endorsed by Braudis. Magnuson is an Aspen police officer who tried but failed to unseat Braudis in the 2006 election.

Leonard said he decided about a year ago to run for sheriff, well before Braudis announced he would retire rather than seek a seventh four-year term.

“I would have run against Bob Braudis,” Leonard said. “The prospect of running against his protege doesn’t intimidate me.”

Now that there are three candidates, a primary will be held in August to narrow the field to two for the November general election. Pitkin County elections are non-partisan, although candidates can pursue party affiliations. Leonard said he has been registered in the past as both a Democrat and a Republican. When he moved to Pitkin County, he registered as an unaffiliated voter, he said.

Leonard predicted his campaign will be well-financed, based on comments from people who said they will support him. He is also confident he will get his message out to voters – his brother is a public relations professional. Leonard plans to provide voters with position papers on major issues throughout the campaign, starting in a week or two.

Leonard said if he fails to win, it will be because voters didn’t like his message – not because he will be outspent or won’t be heard.

Leonard, 53, is touting his experience. He spent 22 years as a law officer in New York and Florida before retiring. He held a variety of positions: patrol officer; plainclothes investigator; detective in the Juvenile Crimes Unit, concentrating first on property crimes such as burglary and theft, then in the Persons Crime Unit, concentrating on rape, robbery and homicide.

Leonard later served in internal affairs, then became a commander in the Vice/Narcotics Unit. The majority of his career was spent with law enforcement agencies in Boca Raton and Boynton Beach in Florida.

“I’ve been in command before,” Leonard said. “I’ve been at the scene of disasters. Officers in my command were shot in the line of duty.”

He moved to Basalt part-time in 2005 to help oversee a small development his brother was undertaking. He moved to Basalt full-time in 2008. Part of Basalt is in Pitkin County while the bulk is in Eagle County.

Leonard acknowledged that he might be bored as a patrol officer with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. But he believes there are plenty of issues to oversee – and changes to be made – as Pitkin County’s top cop.

Positions he plans to target in detail later in the campaign include:

• Improving relations with other law enforcement agencies in the Roaring Fork Valley. Leonard said the sheriff’s office “doesn’t play well with others,” based on what he has heard.

• Installing professional security equipment and procedures at the courthouse and other buildings, such as the shared offices of the sheriff’s department and Aspen Police Department. Leonard said a “Mickey Mouse” security system was installed at the second floor of the courthouse outside the county and district courtrooms. He claimed it could be easily breached.

• Reviewing safety at all schools in Pitkin County. Leonard said he will meet with each principal, or a designated representative, before the August primary for sheriff and discuss existing safety precautions and desired enhancements.

• Improving highway and motor vehicle safety. Leonard said the sheriff’s office could use its clout to get the state to remove roadkill quicker from the shoulders of Highway 82. He said there are frequently “rotting animal carcasses on the side of the road. I don’t think that’s acceptable.” He also believes the sheriff’s office could play a more direct role in watching for construction vehicles hauling unsecured materials, which pose a risk to other motorists.

While Braudis occasionally has been criticized for what’s perceived as a lax position on drug enforcement in general and for condemning undercover work, Leonard said “it seems like it gets an inordinate amount of attention.”

He said drug task forces that use undercover tactics seem to pad their arrests to justify their existence, so in those cases he doesn’t necessarily see undercover tactics as important. In addition, undercover operations are “manpower intensive” and therefore expensive, Leonard said. That means they are impractical most of the time.

But in some cases he said undercover investigation is warranted – like finding who is dealing drugs to school-aged kids or in cases where someone is soliciting a person for murder. Undercover work is necessary when other means are ineffective, he said.

He said he doesn’t foresee the sheriff’s office spending a lot of time pursuing busts for possession of marijuana, when the quantity involved is for personal use.

“This discussion, for all intents and purposes, is not about marijuana,” he said. It’s been de facto legalized in Colorado, in his view.

Leonard said the sheriff’s office should reflect the diversity of the community, and he noted that his view of the community might be different than that of Braudis or the other candidates for sheriff. When asked if he supported Braudis’ approach that deputies should be members of the community that happen to be law officers rather than law officers focused on pursuing criminals, Leonard had a complicated answer.

“Who wouldn’t support that?” Leonard said.

“Officers have an awful lot of discretion,” he continued. “You rely on the officers to make good decisions.”

On the other hand, the sheriff’s office is bound to uphold enforcement of laws. “I feel there are minimum standards for law enforcement agencies that have to be conformed to,” he said.

Despite his involvement in larger law enforcement agencies, Leonard said he wouldn’t clean house at the sheriff’s office and bring in former colleagues to run the department.

“I’ve been quite surprised by the number of people within the department [who] have reached out to me already,” Leonard said. “I think they’re doing a good job. I think there’s a level of frustration.”

He said he would even retain DiSalvo, with a caveat.

“I would tell Joe if he would consider withdrawing, I need a good undersheriff,” Leonard said with a hint of a smile.