Pryor wants to be Aspen’s police chief
November 14, 2007
ASPEN ” The man who has taken the temporary post as Aspen’s top cop said Tuesday that he will seek the position permanently if there is an open application process.
Richard Pryor, 44, has been running the Aspen Police Department ever since Loren Ryerson was put on leave in October. Ryerson resigned Friday amid a sexual harassment investigation, effectively extending Pryor’s stint as the interim police chief.
Less clear, however, is whether City Manager Steve Barwick plans to promote from within the department. Barwick has declined to announce whether there will be a search or open hiring process.
In any case, Aspen police officers apparently think highly of Pryor, and many expressed support for him during the weeks before Ryerson quit.
Now Pryor is in the unusual position of interim chief with both the assistant chief positions open. He also has hired seven new officers this year and is trying to enlist more.
“I think Richard is doing a tremendous job,” said officer Chip Seamans.
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Likewise, other officers said Pryor would make a good chief. The sheriff’s office also appear to be supportive of Pryor.
“I think Richard would be a good candidate when the time comes,” Pitkin County undersheriff Joe DiSalvo said. “[Pryor] and I have always had a good working relationship.”
During his time at the department, Pryor helped place video cameras in cars, ran the hiring process as assistant chief, helped with the recent switch to a new computer system, facilitated the transition from Saabs to Volvo police vehicles and led the police department toward acquiring hybrid vehicles.
It’s the relationships with officers, employees and the public that Pryor calls the most important part of his job.
“The police department, despite some reports, is a supportive and fun place to work,” Pryor said. “I look forward to coming to work here every, well, almost every day. You only need to step outside, look around and realize why you’re here.”
Pryor has worked for the city since May 1994, when he was hired as a community safety officer. He was a patrol officer until August 1999, when he was promoted to sergeant. In March 2001, he moved up to assistant chief.
The job of police officer was a far cry from his beginnings as a farmer.
Pryor was born in Wellwyn Garden City in England and grew up on an 850-acre farm in the county of Hartfordshire, north of London. He learned to drive a tractor at age 11 and spent much of his youth working on the farm.
With that background, he went to the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, southwest of Oxford, and earned a degree in agricultural management.
A Roaring Fork Valley resident of 15 years, Pryor laughed when talking about where he went to college, but be clearly maintains his affinity for farming.
“I went back [to the farm] this year for the first time since leaving,” he said. “It was incredibly emotional. It’s a beautiful part of the English countryside.”
In September 1989, Pryor’s family left the farm, prompting him to visit extended family in the United States. Since his mother is American, he has dual citizenship and was able to stay at will.
When he visited a British friend in Carbondale, he quickly found a job and never looked back. That first job was as a ski tech for Stein Eriksen in Snowmass Village.
Pryor said he learned to ski in Switzerland when he was growing up, and he expected the Rockies to be similar.
“I was a little disappointed when I first got here,” he said. “But I very quickly revised my opinion.”
During the next three years, Pryor worked for Snowmass Lodging Co., a property management company. Then he saw an ad in the paper for a community safety officer.
“I was looking for a change,” he said. “I wanted to be a positive force in the community.”
Pryor didn’t apply to be a police officer, however, partially because he was unsure about carrying a gun.
“It’s very difficult to get your head around gun culture in this country if you came from somewhere else,” he said. “That’s become less of an issue for me. But quite a few of us look down to see a gun belt and wonder how we got here.”
Pryor entered police academy after a year as a community safety officer. He said the learning experience was fascinating because he knew so little about U.S. laws. For instance, he read the U.S. Constitution for the first time during the academy.
“Sometimes Americans talk about this country being the land of opportunity, with tongue in cheek,” Pryor said. “I have to say it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done, moving to this country. I count myself fortunate to have had the ability to do that.”
Pryor lives in Missouri Heights with his wife, Pip, daughter, Harriet, 9, and son, William, 7. Pryor said he will not hang the Union Jack on the Pitkin County Courthouse.
Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org