Ryerson cedes approval of raids
Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson has recommended that his department get permission from the city manager for any unusually large-scale drug enforcement operations.The recommendation for a possible change in the city’s existing drug enforcement policy is contained in a memo to the Aspen City Council, released Friday, that outlines the issues to be discussed at a work session at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the City Council chambers.At that meeting, the council will hear presentations by Ryerson and City Manager Steve Barwick and take comments from the public regarding the city’s drug enforcement policies in light of a Dec. 2 drug enforcement raid at two downtown Aspen restaurants.
The raids at Cooper Street Pier and Little Annie’s Eating House involved more than 50 officers and agents of the Aspen Police Department, Snowmass Village Police Department, federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency and the Colorado Department of Revenue.The investigation leading up to the raids, according to Assistant Police Chief Glenn Schaffer, grew from residents’ tips about drug dealing from the kitchens of the two restaurants and involved the use of undercover DEA agents buying cocaine from suspected dealers.”The essential question before City Council is whether or not there is a threshold of drug activity beyond which federal and state agencies, with their capacity for undercover operations, should be asked to join in enforcement activities” in Aspen, Ryerson wrote in the memo.The proposed policy, which modifies a 13-year-old policy approved by the City Council in 1993 and reauthorized in 2003, “places responsibility for the decision to use [federal or state agents operating undercover] jointly in the hands of the Aspen city manager and police chief.”
The existing policy states Aspen police are empowered to investigate “upon witnessing the use, sale or possession of illegal drugs” as well as “follow up on leads” regarding suspected drug dealers and users.The policy also permits cooperation with other local, state or federal agencies in enforcement efforts, stating that “this cooperation involves the use of facilities, exchange of information and use of staff within the parameters described.”The existing policy also states that the Aspen police department “does not conduct undercover narcotics investigations” and “does not maintain or utilize paid informants” in drug probes.
The Dec. 2 raids have sparked considerable controversy around town, in part because Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis was not informed in advance. Braudis, the top law enforcement official in the county, has criticized the raids as too risky for both the officers involved and the public.Ryerson has apologized and said it was a mistake and an oversight to leave Braudis in the dark. And Schaffer, who was the officer in charge of the operation, has said he deliberately chose the number of agents and officers as a way to ensure the safety of bystanders and law enforcement personnel.Ryerson, however, has repeatedly pointed out that no one was hurt in the raids. He has said that is evidence the operation was well-planned, well-executed and was not a threat to public safety.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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