Police chief defends raids
Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson on Tuesday described the media’s portrayal of the Dec. 2 drug and immigration raids at downtown restaurants as “folklore.”Bob Braudis, Pitkin County’s sheriff, meanwhile, called for a “slight sea change” in how Aspen police handle crime.Ryerson maintained the busts did not violate the tenets of community policing, a philosophy the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office first implemented in the 1970s and the Aspen City Council later adopted. The approach holds that law enforcement exists to prevent arrests, not to make them, thereby instilling trust in residents. Undercover work is frowned upon because of its tendency to disrupt that trust. But Ryerson said community policing also involves responding to residents’ concerns. And more have been complaining about drug sales and possession in restaurants and bars, he said. Nearly every restaurant in the upper valley is in the police department’s jurisdiction.The Dec. 2 busts involved more than 50 officers from local and federal jurisdictions arresting 21 people, mostly on alleged drug and immigration violations, during après ski on a Friday. Five ounces of cocaine and $3,000 in suspected drug-related cash were seized from Cooper Street Pier and Little Annie’s Eating House, among other places, according to police.”How the circumstances were portrayed in the newspapers and the insistence on putting out bad information rather than the facts, yeah, that has affected the trust of some people,” Ryerson said. “But there are a lot of people who are coming forward and want us to address” drug issues.”In the grand scheme of things this was one well-executed [action] by people who are fully trained.”The department’s overall goal is to help people make the right choices, Aspen’s four-year police chief said.”Our goal is not to catch the individual user, but we will address it with that person if we catch them,” he said. “We’d much rather address it at the higher levels, and this is what this attempt was.”Ryerson said there were a number of individuals buying cocaine who were coming and going from the restaurants before the arrests.”We didn’t even address it with those people. We addressed it with the dealers,” Ryerson said.He said many of those arrested have no local ties “except for their place of business. They weren’t kitchen workers, they weren’t employees, they were just plying their trade in the restaurants.”Are we targeting kitchen workers? No. We’re targeting people who are choosing to sell drugs.”Aspen police officers were the first ones to enter the businesses when the search warrants were executed, he said.”Yes, there were some DEA people there. But they didn’t stand up, they didn’t take their weapons and [yell], ‘This is a raid,’ he said. “That didn’t happen. There is so much folklore that has arisen.”
People were handcuffed at their place of business, something Ryerson acknowledged is embarrassing. But every effort was made to keep everyone as safe as possible, he said.”It went off exactly as planned.”He also took issue with the view that the raids endangered residents or police. After the arrests, Ryerson apologized for not informing Braudis or his investigators about the matter beforehand. Braudis has said the arrests should have been carried out at the suspects’ residences.But the police chief said doing that would have involved going into apartment buildings, trailer parks and other neighborhoods. Carrying out the arrests in those places impacts the public, as well, he said.”The perception that it’s somehow more dangerous here than it was there is something I just don’t agree with,” he said. “We rely on an officer’s extensive training to have these circumstances go off as safely as possible. And it did.”As for reports that children were in the restaurants at the time, Ryerson said the only kids the arrests affected were the suspects’.Braudis said he didn’t think the debate about law enforcement’s role should be played out in the newspapers.”But after meeting with the city manager and his concurrence that he supports my drug-enforcement philosophy 100 percent, the city manager has to take some actions in changing the direction of the Aspen Police Department,” he said. “The City Council has to support the city manager.”He added that he would like to see “a slight sea change in the attitude of our neighboring police department.”Ryerson said there are officers under him who adhere to a more conservative law enforcement approach. The same is true in the sheriff’s office, he said.The department has its share of Democrats and Republicans, but both are willing to deliver on the community-policing mission, he said.”Do they fight me on it? Do they offer suggestions? Sure,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean they prevail.”Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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Pitkin County public health officials are working toward opening a free, drive-through COVID -19 testing site in Aspen that will not require a doctor’s prescription.