Pitkin County sheriff candidates share their views | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County sheriff candidates share their views

Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Next year there will be a new sheriff in town, but there’s still an Aug. 10 primary election to be had, from which the top two vote-getters will advance to the November contest.

As far as local elections go, the race for sheriff is an historic one – Bob Braudis, who was elected in 1986, has decided to step down in January, opening the door for four candidates to throw their hats in the ring.

All four have some type of law-enforcement experience.

There’s Joe DiSalvo, Braudis’ right-hand man as Pitkin County’s undersheriff, and Rick “Patrick” Leonard, a former lawman from Florida and New York. This is Aspen police officer Rick Magnuson’s second crack at sheriff – he lost to Braudis in 2006 – and part-time deputy Hugh Zuker, also the president of Mountain Rescue, is making a bid.

All four candidates, in their own words, agreed to answer several questions from The Aspen Times Weekly, address the challenges and issues facing the sheriff’s office.

Q: On a scale of 1-10, with being 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest, rank the overall performance of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office under Bob Braudis, along with an explanation of your mark.

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A: In 1986, when Bob Braudis was elected sheriff, I was a rookie police officer at the Aspen Police Department. In 1988 I went to work for Bob and ended up in a front-row seat to his career as sheriff. Every four years we have had the opportunity to elect a different sheriff and for 24 years we continued to elect Bob Braudis as our top peace officer. That in itself should answer this question.

I would have to say that the overall performance of the office under Bob would have to be a 9.5. Bob was not alone in the creation of this success. It always boiled down to the people we hired. We as deputies were always encouraged to be free thinkers and to be creative problem-solvers. Hiring deputies with local knowledge who embody the values and ideas of this community is the backbone of our success.

The philosophy of the sheriff’s office is built on treating all community members with respect and dignity.

Our staff is comprised of intelligent, professional peace officers; our product continues to get high marks from prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys and judges in the ninth judicial district. Our deputies are known for presenting a very professional, quality work product to the courts. We continually get high marks for our ability to investigate and prosecute crimes.

The ultimate measure of success has to be the safety of the community. Pitkin County is a very safe place to live. The success of our office also lies with the people who live here. Our community is made up of intelligent, caring, human beings who work with us and with each other to keep our community safe.

With this track record, why a 9.5? Hey, nobody is perfect.

Q: If elected sheriff, what changes would you implement? This includes changes to policy, staff, philosophy, budget, etc. If you would make no changes, explain why.

A: I’m not a believer of change for change’s sake. Although very familiar with the office’s existing policies and procedures, I believe it is important to review all aspects of the department immediately after taking the oath. I will review all policies to ensure they are current and applicable. I believe the current policies are sound but some may need updating.

Pitkin County government is in the middle of its annual budget review. I have managed the sheriff’s office budget for the last four years and have represented the sheriff at all budget meetings. Pitkin County is feeling the financial pinch and has felt it for the last few years. Government revenues have been significantly down over the last few years. Last year the county asked me to cut 5 percent from our annual operating budget. This year we are being asked to cut another 5 percent. Without an increase in revenues, these cuts will eventually result in lower service levels and a reduction in officer training. At this moment, finances are the biggest challenge I face. At this time I have no plans to make adjustments to staff. I will not sacrifice public safety or officer safety because of budget cuts. However, I will continue to be a team player with the Board of County Commissioners and the Pitkin County staff as it relates to important fiscal decisions.

My management philosophy is to collaborate on all decisions with the experienced staff, which is already in place and in whom I trust implicitly, and to continue to seek the highest level of communication with our community.

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office is a veteran group of deputies. I will tap this experience and utilize contacts on the state, federal and local levels that I have established and nurtured for over 25 years as a peace officer in Pitkin County.

I will pledge to the citizens and visitors of Pitkin County my continuing dedication and awareness regarding changes in demographics, crime statistics and community reality for as long as I serve as “our next sheriff.”

Q: What do you consider the single biggest criminal issue in Pitkin County, and what would you do to deter it?

A: In the last 12 months the crime that generated the most reports taken by deputies is theft. In the last year, 29 thefts have generated criminal reports. Theft can be stolen bicycles, skis and purses. To deter this activity, I believe citizens have to participate in the protection of their property. Skis and bicycles should be locked and tools at construction sites should be secured at night. Basic crime prevention. People should not leave property unattended. We have a very safe community but some will take advantage when an opportunity presents itself. Let’s work together to reduce the incidence of theft.

Violent crime is defined as “crime against a person.” In the last year domestic violence generated 55 citizen calls.

Colorado statutes dictate a mandatory arrest when there is probable cause that domestic violence has occurred. Our community will not tolerate violent behavior of any kind.

In my 25-year law enforcement career, I believe the biggest criminal issue has been domestic violence. I have responded to hundreds of domestic violence situations where people have been seriously injured at the hand of a spouse or partner. This community should never accept any form of violence towards another person. We need to continue to address this issue through education and counseling as well as the criminal justice system.

The total elimination of crime in any society is unrealistic. We as a community can do our part to limit crime. This community has too much intelligence and civility to accept any increased level of crime. We have a history of watching out for our neighbors and reporting criminal activity immediately. That is just one more reason why Pitkin County is a special and safe place to live and raise a family.

Q: On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest, rank the overall performance of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office under Bob Braudis, along with an explanation of your mark.

A: Since the question does not provide a time frame, my answer assumes an average grade in the range of “8.” If I was assessing a grade for just the last several years, it would be considerably lower. The sheriff was first elected more than 20 years ago and has had a long and distinguished career. The sheriff obviously enjoyed the support of a large percentage of the voters and his stewardship has never been seriously challenged. His role in the design and construction of the county jail deserves our praise. The sheriff, quite justifiably, is proud of his record of recruiting high-quality sworn and non-sworn employees. In recent years, however, there have been relatively few accomplishments and little leadership.

In 2007, the Pitkin County bear problem raised the concern of residents and officials and the BOCC passed the Wildlife Protection Ordinance. The ordinance called for enforcement of bear-proof container requirements and established a schedule of fines and penalties. In 2009, the bear problem again escalated. When DOW reached out to the PCSO, the sheriff said, the PCSO did not have a bear policy or the proper training to deal with the problem. I have a comprehensive set of proposals for the bear problem, including the sheriff’s office hosting a “Bear Summit” each year.

On our roads and highways, particularly Highway 82, we continue to see animal carcasses, road debris, construction materials and commercial and non-commercial vehicles carrying unsafe loads. The sheriff claims that the Colorado State Patrol should be responsible for Highway 82. I have proposed a comprehensive action plan for addressing these issues.

Many residents of Redstone and the Crystal River Valley have complained about the lack of a law enforcement presence, long response times and worsening conditions with regard to speeders and street racing. I have committed to assigning a deputy to the Redstone area and I will

personally have “office hours” in the area, one day each month.

Any discussion of the lack of leadership at the PCSO would be incomplete without mentioning Lenado. The Lenado controversy nvolves the competing interests of homeowners and recreational users of public lands. Lenado can be described as an “access point” where problems are exacerbated in winter months by snowfall accumulations and increasing numbers of snowmobilers attempting to gain access to the backcountry. The BOCC proposed posting signs in an effort to designate parking and no parking areas. The undersheriff told the BOCC that the PCSO would not enforce the signage. The homeowners later filed suit against the county.

In each of the cases I have cited above, the sheriff’s office failed to play a leadership role. As sheriff, I will take on challenges like the ones I have described and provide the kind of results-oriented leadership that Pitkin County deserves.

Q: If elected sheriff, what changes would you implement? This includes changes to policy, staff, philosophy, budget etc. If you would make no changes, explain why.

A: As soon as the economic climate improves, staffing levels will need to be increased. In a county almost as large as the state of Rhode Island, having only one deputy on duty 20 percent of the time compromises public safety and officer safety. I am calling for minimum manpower staffing levels and in the short term I will be able to accomplish this with scheduling adjustments. Long term, staffing levels will need to be augmented.

The road patrol schedule is in need of a complete overhaul. Friday and Sunday afternoons there may be as many as seven uniformed deputies on duty. Sunday evenings there are four deputies on duty and there is only one deputy on duty between the hours of 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. (seven days a week). Manpower allocation, as it relates to the volume of calls for service, has to make better sense. The assignment of patrol deputies to specific zones or sectors will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of road patrols.

Administratively, I am proposing the restructuring of the pay plan. The current plan lacks “steps” and creates an uneven playing field. The sheriff’s use of titles rather than rank adversely impacts perceptions and employees’ feelings about their pay and position. Lastly, adopting pay standards employed by progressive agencies around the country will better enable the PCSO to retain knowledgeable and experienced employees.

I am also promising due diligence and transparency in the contracting of services and the purchase of materials. Last year, the complete failure of the sheriff’s office to perform responsible due diligence in the contracting of prisoner transport services nearly had a disastrous outcome. When the sheriff’s office contracted with this company it ignored the American Jail Association’s recommendations, it jeopardized the life of the prisoner and it created serious liability exposure for the county.

As I was preparing this questionnaire, the local news was reporting the escape of a prisoner from custody at the Pitkin County Courthouse. This should be a wake-up call for the sheriff’s office.

Public services offered by the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office must be broadened. I am proposing a number of other initiatives that will establish the office of sheriff as a force for good in our community.

• Citizens Law Enforcement Academy: A 10-week program designed to increase citizen awareness of public safety issues through classroom discussions and hands-on demonstrations.

• Sheriff’s Cadet Program: Offered in conjunction with the Boy Scouts of America and designed to foster trust between law enforcement and our youth.

• Sheriff’s Scholarship Program: I will join sheriffs in 62 other Colorado counties that participate in the County Sheriffs of Colorado student scholarship program. Additionally, I will host annually the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Auction and Ball to raise funds for educational scholarships for local students.

• Town Hall Meetings: I will schedule regular meetings in different parts of the county to hear community members’ concerns about public safety.

• New Web Presence: The sheriff’s office does not have its own website. I feel this will have to eventually change.

Q: What do you consider the single biggest criminal issue in Pitkin County, and what would you do to deter it?

A: It is not clear that there is one big problem. I am concerned that the incidence of suicide, crimes of domestic violence and crimes against women could be on the rise and need to be watched closely. I intend to consult with experts and review empirical data to learn more about the relationship between legally acquired drugs (prescription drug abuse), illegal drug usage and increased suicide rates.

These are clearly issues where the sheriff can demonstrate a great deal more leadership. I will insist on better training for investigators. I will make needed improvements to the crime scene investigations process and the collection, preservation and storage of evidence. We do a huge disservice to crime victims, their families and the community when we don’t properly prepare to conduct thorough and professional investigations.

I also think the assignment of a female sex crimes investigator deserves some consideration. I will work more closely with the district attorney’s office to ensure the successful prosecution of these cases and I will also work more closely with advocacy groups like Response.

Q: On a scale of 1-10, with being 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest, rank the overall performance of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office under Bob Braudis, along with an explanation of your mark.

A: Historically, Pitkin County has elected non-traditional sheriffs with relevant and compassionate perspectives on law enforcement. I support and aspire to this type of service. This approach has worked well and has been credited for the relative civility in this valley. However, I would posit that this perspective has erroneously been attributed to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department under the leadership of Bob Braudis; it could be argued that the reason this valley has such a low violent crime rate is its high socioeconomic status and physical inaccessibility. What if we were to re-think our collective narrative and stop congratulating ourselves for these accidental achievements? Would we see more opportunities for self-improvement if we would eschew our overly romanticized view of history?

We are blessed with an idyllic lifestyle in the Roaring Fork Valley in spite of the policies of the Sheriff, not because of them. It is arrogant and reckless to ignore laws that our democratically elected leaders pass. Specifically, turning a blind eye toward substance abuse plainly enables many citizens that need assistance and intervention. Certainly this is Braudis’ legacy as evidenced by the number of drug dealers his department has investigated and convicted under his leadership: Zero.

His budget is appropriately inflated for a complacent, top-heavy department. His commitment to environmental sustainability is negligible. His courtroom security is recklessly inadequate.

Credit is due to members of the Sheriff’s Department for their zeal for upholding citizens’ constitutional rights: they are unsurpassed in this critical domain. They provide exceptional assistance to Mountain Rescue. They serve civil papers flawlessly. Braudis gets high marks for hiring excellent staff; the deputies are arguably the most skillful, compassionate, fair-minded and reasonable public safety professionals in the country. It is an honor to work by their side.

Q: If elected sheriff, what changes would you implement? This includes changes to policy, staff, philosophy, budget, etc. If you would make no changes, explain why.

A: According to a report in the Aspen Daily News (May 3, 2009), eight of the top 30 wage-earners for Pitkin County are employed by the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department. By comparison, the Aspen Police Department employs 3 of the top 30 wage earners for the City of Aspen (May 10, 2009).

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department has 25 sworn officers, the same number as the Aspen Police Department. According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations (CBI), between 2006 and 2009, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s department experienced 626 offenses, resulting in 610 arrests, including 133 DUI arrests. By comparison, the Aspen Police Department has had 1,779 offenses, resulting in 1,606 arrests, including 347 DUI arrests.

During the same four years, the Sheriff’s Department has gone from 22 sworn deputies to 25. Jail staff increased from 13 to 14 deputies. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department is doing less with more, at a time when other public safety agencies are doing more with less.

In 2006 the department’s patrol budget was $2.6 million; in 2010 the budget is $3.4 million. The jail budget was $1.4 million in 2006; in 2010 it ballooned to $2.1 million. The entire budget of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department is $6.4 million today, up from $4.6 million just four years ago; a remarkable 35 percent increase at a time when most other government agencies curtailed spending.

Certainly, Pitkin County taxpayers are paying far too much for the services they receive. I will restructure the department by shifting the director of operations and one patrol supervisor into patrol deputies. This would result in 15 patrol deputies and three patrol supervisors – an optimal 5:1 span of control. Currently the top-heavy structure of the department has a span of control of 3 employees per supervisor. This is inefficient and wasteful.

I would settle for 24 sworn officers, including 15 patrol deputies. This is one less than current staff but two above 2006 levels. This structure would better serve Pitkin County residents: it would save $150,000 per year and enable two additional patrol deputies to provide valuable services to county residents. I would also eliminate the civil administrator position and delegate these duties to sworn deputies, who are better equipped to deal with potentially violent encounters. This would save an additional $70,000.

This comfortable staffing level would allow deputies to increase patrols in remote towns like Meredith, Thomasville and Redstone – areas that rarely receive services. It would also allow for adequate court security, which is abysmal currently. Most importantly, this appropriate staffing level would enable deputies to spend more time in the community they serve.

Q: What do you consider the single biggest criminal issue in Pitkin County, and what would you do to deter it?

A: The biggest criminal issue facing Pitkin County residents is not a specific crime, but the underlying factor driving criminal behavior: substance abuse.

Statistically, thefts, assault and DUIs are the most common crimes occurring in Pitkin County, according to CBI. Your neighbors will tell you that they feel safe, and I agree with them. We do not need drastic changes in our law enforcement style. We need incremental changes and a leader that understands that ignoring substance abuse leads to enabling behavior patterns that ultimately destroy lives.

In Pitkin County, drug laws have essentially been ignored since 1976, and we have an inordinate amount of substance abuse-related problems, including a suicide rate that is twice the state average and three times the national average.

The most effective way to prevent future crime is to prevent future substance abuse. That is why I would aim our limited resources where they would be most beneficial: our children. There is little or no drug/alcohol prevention, particularly with middle-school students, the most vulnerable age group. I would implement the new D.A.R.E. middle school curriculum – “Keeping it real,” a high-tech, interactive and decision-model-based prevention program.

Perhaps the most critical characteristic of a sheriff is compassion. A compassionate sheriff will recognize the importance of upholding the laws that our democratically elected legislators pass. Those laws are the result of much debate and effectively embody our collective conscience.

This is a short summary of my cohesive policy aimed at reducing substance abuse. For more, visit pitkincountysheriff.org.

Q: On a scale of 1-10, with being 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest, rank the overall performance of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office under Bob Braudis, along with an explanation of your mark.

A: The job of sheriff in Colorado is much bigger than law enforcement. It includes being fire marshal, the ultimate responsibility for search and rescue, court security, management of jail operations, and responsibility for helping to direct the 911 dispatch center, among other duties. Simply stated, the job of the Sheriff is not a county version of police chief, but the chief public safety officer for the entire county.

Bob Braudis has put together a talented and intelligent team with a great mix of experience, knowledge and enthusiasm. Under Bob, the office has enjoyed tremendous community support. I can speak of many areas that can be improved without needing to impugn past efforts.

The improvements I would like to implement include changes in focus and opportunity. For example, there has recently been an increased effort regarding DUI enforcement, and beefed up patrol presence in the Crystal and Fryingpan valleys. I would like to see these changes made permanent. I would also like to have on-call deputies living closer to Thomasville and Redstone. It is essential that those communities not feel isolated.

With limited space, I won’t go on, but there are exciting areas for improvement. I’ll conclude by saying that I support Bob’s philosophy of treating everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of their circumstances. I have done my utmost to comport myself in this way, and I would insist on continuing this philosophy in all public contacts and treatment of inmates.

Q: If elected sheriff, what changes would you implement? This includes changes to policy, staff, philosophy, budget, etc. If you would make no changes, explain why.

A: As a deputy recruited and hired by Sheriff Braudis, I have deep respect for the experienced professionals currently serving at the Sheriff’s office. There are at least half a dozen deputies there with the experience, knowledge and ability to be excellent Sheriffs, but who don’t want to put themselves forward as candidates.

One reason I entered this race is the number people with whom I work in public safety – in law enforcement and other areas – who reached out and asked me to present an alternative. I have to respect their need to remain publicly neutral, but I also respect their insight that there is a real need for the Sheriff to be inclusive of and receptive to all stakeholders, beyond just those who have the ear of the department or are a part of it. I am a deputy, but not an insider. I will work on behalf of the community to support the Sheriff’s team in meeting the community’s needs, not the other way around.

There are many major and minor changes I see as necessary. As a manager, I assume that I don’t always know best, and I engage people to come up with solutions that get consensus. I believe that is one reason I have been elected 7 consecutive times as president of Mountain Rescue Aspen and that many people at all levels of public safety have asked me to step up.

Since any plan requires input and buy-in, I think it is presumptuous to simply announce the changes one will implement before one is in office. However, these are just a few of the issues we must confront directly.

• Budget: The Sheriff’s payroll is disproportionally skewed towards management. Local governments are under increasing pressure to do more with less. Not only are we still in a downturn of tax revenues, but there are statewide legislative efforts underway to strip much of the taxing power of local governments. We must be fearless and intelligent in getting the best cost/benefit and meet our responsibilities.

• Substance abuse: With three times the national average rate of suicide, and substance abuse a common element, Pitkin County can’t deny that a problem exists. Just because incarceration is one of the world’s worst drug rehabilitation models does not mean the Sheriff’s department should be passive or absent. We have a positive role to play.

• Public safety is everyone’s business. As a member of the public safety council for seven years, I can tell you there is a robust and ongoing effort to prepare for all hazards by coordinating local public safety agencies. However, there is much more to be done.

Q: What do you consider the single biggest criminal issue in Pitkin County, and what would you do to deter it?

A: Of Pitkin County’s reported offenses in 2009, 57 percent involved theft, and 25 percent involved assault. Twenty-one percent of arrests last year were for driving under the influence.

Illegal and prescription substance abuse is the biggest socio-criminal issue in Pitkin County, and the most widely discussed. This encompasses alcohol, prescription medications, marijuana and harder drugs. Substance use is involved in most crimes of passion, domestic violence, reckless driving, aggressive behavior and violent crimes.

Recent studies have shown that anyone in their middle teens who uses a substance that changes how they feel is FIVE times as likely to have a substance abuse problem as an adult, and that risk is even higher when there is a family history of substance abuse. Studies also show that even marijuana is linked to violence in teens. Many old ideas about safe drug use for young people are outmoded.

The most intelligent, current thinking is that effectively preventing children’s drug use involves a “cultural contract.” This requires a great deal of education, along with a community understanding that the Sheriff’s office stands strongly against illicit drug use.

The Sheriff’s office should actively engage the county’s high-quality collection of nonprofit programs that address drug abuse, and provide the law-enforcement part of the social contract to empower and support these efforts. There is much more the Sheriff’s department can do to partner with The Buddy Program, The Valley Partnership for Drug Prevention, Right Door, YouthZone, the Aspen Hope Center, and other organizations to be a positive force in prevention, education, assistance, and law enforcement.

Medical marijuana laws make that drug its own topic, and I cover that topic extensively at hughforsheriff.com.

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