Surcharge on drug charges? |

Surcharge on drug charges?

The Aspen police chief is recommending a surcharge be placed on fines handed down in municipal court for crimes that involve drug or alcohol abuse, including traffic offenses.

The 35 percent surcharge Loren Ryerson proposed would fund substance abuse prevention programs, as well as help victims and witnesses. At a Tuesday work session the Aspen City Council informally told Ryerson they support his ordinance.

Average fines in municipal court range from $100 to $200, Ryerson said. According to the draft ordinance, the police department would administer the “Victim, Witness and Law Enforcement Surcharge Fund,” and make recommendations to the City Council on how to spend the money.

The surcharge would be added to municipal court actions resulting in convictions and guilty or no contest pleas stemming from charges in the Aspen Municipal Code. The surcharge would not be added to parking tickets.

Ryerson said he intended the ordinance to be handed down by a judge only for incidents of arrests that include drug or alcohol abuse, such as driving under the influence or assaults that include intoxication.

Ryerson said the city needs additional money to support detox services, which are currently provided by Colorado West Recovery Center in Glenwood Springs. Since the facility will no longer pay for transportation of intoxicated people to the center 40 miles away, the city must pay those additional costs.

There is still talk of a detox center for Aspen, though Brad Osborn of the Chemical Dependency Task Force said the group is trying to come up with alternatives to building a local center, since the project would be too expensive. Six months ago the group came up with the concept of a “Sober Clubhouse,” or a place where recovering addicts can meet regularly.

The clubhouse, tentatively named “The Right Door,” would be a self-sufficient center for the recovering community in any of the local 12-step meetings that now meet in various churches and community centers. Osborn said in Conifer, 12-step groups use an abandoned Veterans of Foreign Wars building, and in Steamboat Springs the groups lease the upstairs portion of a house that has commercial space on the first floor.

“The Right Door” would also be a place where visitors could get some help if they’re arrested on drug- or alcohol-related charges. Staff from the Pitkin County Jail, the police department and the emergency room staff at Aspen Valley Hospital could refer people to the center, he said.

“We’re going to market it so that everyone knows it’s out there,” he said. “We have a good detox facility in Glenwood Springs, and a good, clean recovering community who will support it.”

The primary obstacle is finding a place to rent at an affordable rate. Osborn said the first order of business is to look into city-owned property that could be rented, or another good deal on a leasable space. He said the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation has already agreed to fund the program, outside of the cost of rent.

A number of local organizations, including Valley Partnership for Drug Prevention and the Chemical Dependency Task Force, have been helping the police department and the city look into its current substance abuse policies and prevention programs. During the last school year two juvenile arrests that involved cocaine at the high school prompted the community to look closely at the issue.

Ryerson said that a number of arrests of juveniles at parties who are in possession of alcohol have kept up local work on initiatives for preventing youth substance abuse. The Aspen schools will have two school resource officers on their campus this year after the police department received a federal grant to fund the program.

Events and extended hours at the Aspen Recreation Center and the Youth Center have given local teens a place to gather besides private homes for unsupervised parties, Ryerson said. Judge Jim Boyd of the 9th Judicial District is also looking into establishing drug court and teen court programs in Pitkin County as specialized diversion programs for drug-addicted offenders or those in juvenile court.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is]

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