Q&A with new Carbondale Police Chief Kirk Wilson
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Kirk Wilson officially began as the new chief of police for Carbondale on Oct. 5, which also happened to be his 46th birthday.
The former Rifle police officer of 18 years began with the Carbondale Police Department in June after being selected last spring to replace now-retired longtime Chief Gene Schilling.
Wilson’s first four months were spent in the lieutenant’s role, learning from Schilling, who had been with the department for nearly four decades, including 23 years as chief.
As of this month, it’s full steam ahead for the new chief.
The Glenwood Springs Post Independent caught up with Wilson last week, just as he was headed off to Denver for some more training. He took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about himself, what he likes about his new job and his views on some bigger policing issues … oh, and a bit of fun, too (read to the end).
Q. Tell us about your family.
A. My beautiful wife Jessica is a teacher in the Roaring Fork School District. The daughter is a student at CMU in Grand Junction, and the son is a first-grader in the district.
Q. Where are you from originally, where did you go to school, and how did you end up in western Colorado?
A. I got my undergraduate in Administration of Justice from Arizona State University. Upon graduation we relocated to Grand Junction, where my brother-in-law, Derek Geer, was a deputy with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department. My parents retired to Grand Junction at the same time.
Q. When did you decide to go into law enforcement, and what jobs have you held before coming to Carbondale?
A. It was my childhood dream to enter the military after high school. That all changed when I was diagnosed with Insulin Dependent Diabetes in middle school. In high school I was a lifeguard in downtown Phoenix. We had a lot of great interactions with the Phoenix Police Department. My desire to serve never changed, and eventually I realized I could serve my community as a police officer. Before coming to the Carbondale Police Department, I had the pleasure of working at the Rifle Police Department for almost 18 years. Before that, I worked at the American Red Cross in Phoenix while I finished my undergraduate.
Q. How has the move to Carbondale gone so far? What attracted you to the chief’s job there?
A. Carbondale is wonderful. The people here are fantastic. We moved to Carbondale during Mountain Fair this year. I was sad that Mountain Fair had to be drastically reduced. I am hopeful that next year, the 50th anniversary of Mountain Fair, the event is back to its full glory and COVID is a thing of the past. I remember the day I decided to apply for the Chief of Police position here in Carbondale. I was in a law enforcement class. Carbondale School Resource Officer Gretchen Bell was talking to Rifle Chief Tommy Klein. She was telling Chief Klein that he should apply. Chief Klein told her that he thought I would be a good fit. He was aware that I had recently received my MPA, and he continuously encouraged me to make the move. The rest, as they say, is history.
Q. What do you like most about law enforcement?
A. What I love most about law enforcement are the lifelong relationships that are built along the way. Not only do you build incredible bonds with the officers in your department, but you also build amazing relationships with the people you work with along the way. People call the police when they are having the worst day of their life. It’s a great feeling when you know you helped someone out. Whether it’s ensuring that someone in crisis receives proper mental health assistance or simply making sure that a person feels they are being heard, officers can make themselves a part of that.
Q. What are your goals for leading the Carbondale Police Department?
A. My goal is to ensure that the Carbondale Police Department provides the services our community wants. That doesn’t mean we won’t enforce the law, but it does mean that our officers understand “how” the community wants us to enforce it. I adhere to the Servant Leadership principles, so I want to make sure that our department hires the best officers we can, retain them and ensure they have the proper skills, knowledge, abilities and equipment to perform their job the way our community expects.
Q. What are the biggest challenges facing small-town police agencies today?
A. One of the biggest challenges facing small-town policing is recruitment and retention. Eighteen years ago, applicants were lining up out the door to get into law enforcement. Now, agencies on the western slope struggle to get five applicants for an open position. Once hired, agencies struggle to keep officers here, as cost of living and pay are always at odds. Now more than ever, agencies need to keep the good officers they have, and that’s difficult, especially with municipal revenues declining due to COVID-19.
Q. What do you look for in recruiting police officers?
A. When recruiting new officers, I think the main thing departments are looking for is common sense. We can train someone about the law, but without common sense, it makes it difficult for them to apply it the way our community wants.
Q. What’s your approach to addressing some of the larger concerns around law enforcement, including violence by and directed at police?
A. Violence is inappropriate. Intentionally injuring someone is unacceptable, regardless if it is by an officer, or anyone else. Officers are to use the amount of force necessary to make an arrest. This is why hiring the right people, with common sense, and keeping them is so crucial to law enforcement. Every time a department hires a new officer, that agency is taking a risk that the new officer will behave the way the department expects.
Q. How do you plan to involve yourself in the community beyond your police work?
A. With a 6-year old at home, I’m sure I will find some things to do.
And, a few just-for-fun questions:
Q. Any nicknames?
A. Having the first name, I have been referred to as “Captain Kirk” a bunch.
Q. Music preference. Favorite band/musician?
A. I love a wide variety of music, but my go-to genre tends to be ’80s Big Hair Bands.
Q. Reading any good books right now?
A. I’m an avid Audible listener, as my office for years has been a police vehicle. Currently, I’m listening to “The First 90 Days,” by Michael Watkins. Before that, I really enjoyed “Five Days at Memorial” by Sheri Fink. As an emergency manager, it was a must-read.
Q. Favorite movie of all time? Why?
A. My favorite movie is “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, because it is a classic holiday story about coming together to help someone out; followed by “Star Wars IV: A New Hope,” because that was the first movie my father took me to see. It was just the two of us. Like many people my age, it was more than just a movie to me.
Q. Favorite cop show?
A. I’m not much of a fan of cop shows. The only one I can say I’ve watched in the last few years is “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” My wife and I enjoy watching something that makes us laugh.