Police chief tight-lipped to media
ASPEN Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson won’t talk to the media much in the future.He has delegated the job to a press officer who will handle most media calls. For now, that person is Sgt. Bill Linn.”I don’t think [Ryerson] will grant every interview nowadays,” Linn said. “He doesn’t go out and write traffic tickets, either. Skico has an entire PR staff; do they answer every question on the CEO level?”Recently, Aspen police released a new departmental policy on the use of electric stun guns and though Ryerson did comment in a press release, he would not speak directly with media.If there are “issues of substance” or other important matters, Linn said Ryerson “will not be shy about representing his department,” though it is unclear where that line will be drawn.
Linn, a former Aspen Daily News reporter, said the goal of having a press officer is to facilitate communication between the public and his department. He said the media can be intimidating and that this merely formalizes a way of dealing with press that “had gotten muddy over time.”Ryerson, who oversees a department of 25 police and four community safety officers, has caught flak in the past couple of years. “There have been a few times where we’ve been stung by things in the press that we thought were unjust,” Linn said. A cocaine bust at two downtown restaurants in December 2005 struck many locals as heavy-handed and angered Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis, who was not informed about the raid. When an Aspen officer used a stun gun on a 63-year-old homeless woman in June 2006, numerous Aspenites accused the department of using unnecessary force. City Manager Steve Barwick eventually fired the officer, Melinda Calvano, against Ryerson’s recommendation.
In November, Ryerson called for an investigation into a heated exchange between Joe DiSalvo, who was then Pitkin County’s lead investigator, and a teenager at the Pitkin County Courthouse. Ryerson caught heat from the public when the teen and his mother both praised DiSalvo.Linn said the details of these incidents did not come across as the department would have liked, and so led to the creation of a press officer. As he put it, the department ended up in an “adversarial” role with the media.”All three of those are fair examples of situations when we were back on our heels responding to sides of the story that took on lives of their own,” Linn said. “We were unable to portray what we saw as our view of what happened.”Linn and a few other officers went through a full day of training in March with a marketing strategy company called Communique. The officers did mock interviews with print press, TV and radio.The company now contracts with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other state and federal entities. Local Gary Gleason, former public information officer for RFTA, runs Communique.
City Manager Barwick did not have a strong opinion about the chief’s communication policy and left the choice to Ryerson. The change is unusual for a Roaring Fork Valley police agency, though.The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office does not have a press officer, nor does the Basalt Police Department. “My feeling is that the press is our partner in communicating to the community,” said Basalt Police Chief Keith Ikeda. “I try to respond as quickly as I can when I get a message. I’m available to the press just like I am to any community member.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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