Sheriff candidates talk drug, DUI enforcement differences
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – The dichotomy was palpable Thursday night between the two Pitkin County sheriff candidates who have expressed their desire to change many things in the department, Rick Magnuson and Rick Leonard, and Joe DiSalvo, who wants to maintain the status quo engineered by longtime sheriff Bob Braudis.
During the first debate of the race, Magnuson and Leonard said they would step up drug and DUI enforcement in the county, while DiSalvo defended the practices of the department under Braudis, for whom DiSalvo serves as undersheriff.
“That [Magnuson] says the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t changed drug policy [in several decades] is pure fiction,” DiSalvo said, adding that the sheriff’s office has been involved in several high-stakes drug investigations in the past few years and is currently partnering with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in two.
Much of the debate focused on Magnuson’s touted campaign platform to actively enforce drug laws, which he said hasn’t happened under the current administration, and what DiSalvo said is the office’s lack of resources to conduct needed undercover investigations.
Throughout the debate, Magnuson cited high suicide rates in Aspen as an indicator that drug laws need to be enforced more vigorously, or that drugs need to be legalized across the board.
“I’ve never made an arrest for a drug crime, and that’s because I’m not allowed to do undercover investigations,” he said.
DiSalvo fired back that the county does not have the infrastructure to effectively send its officers undercover, adding that, in such a small county, it would only endanger the deputies.
“The hardest secret in the world to keep is a secret in Aspen, Colorado,” he said, alluding to drug dealers possibly knowing if a buyer was an undercover officer.
Magnuson said that, while he would support legislation that would legalize drugs, the position of sheriff is not to ignore those rules.
“The people in the democracy right now say drugs should be illegal,” he said. “I respect that.”
Leonard agreed with Magnuson that more drug enforcement is needed in Pitkin County. But when the candidates were asked what the most immediate legal issue for the county was, he said preparedness for top-level criminal investigations rises to the top.
He said a decision to close an Aspen school because of a bomb threat after a man planted two bombs near Aspen banks was a bad choice that reflected poor decision-making skills in the department.
“Thank god it didn’t incentivize the rascal that did it” to keep seeking attention, Leonard said.
DiSalvo said the closing was the school’s decision, made on the advice of the department. Magnuson agreed that the sheriff’s office handled that case well.
“The emergency preparedness is on track,” Magnuson said. “That area does not need a lot of improvement.”
DiSalvo said the most immediate criminal issue facing the county is theft and domestic violence.
The debate was the only forum before early voting begins Monday.
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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.