Undercover narcotic operations, full staffing promised for midvalley
EAGLE COUNTY – Two professional lawmen with long histories of serving their country as well as Eagle County are vying for the sheriff’s seat in the November election.
Incumbent Joe Hoy is seeking re-election to a third term as Eagle County sheriff. He started with the sheriff’s office in 1989 as a patrol deputy, won election as sheriff in 2002 and was re-elected in 2006.
His challenger also started with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office in 1989. James van Beek served in a variety of positions with the sheriff’s office until 2000, when he took a position in Kosovo as a civilian police officer on a United Nations mission. He has spent the better part of the last decade working on peace missions overseas in the Balkans and, most recently, with police forces in Afghanistan.
Van Beek’s family remained rooted in Eagle County, and he continued working with the department between his overseas assignments. Now he wants to extend his experience at building police forces to the sheriff’s office.
Van Beek said he will create a sheriff’s office that is open to the public it serves and accountable for its actions. He said he will meet with people from different parts of the county on a regular basis to find out if they are receiving adequate service and incorporate their views into his vision for the department.
When asked if the focus of his campaign means the current sheriff’s administration is isolated, Van Beek responded, “Everybody I talk to – the answer is yes.”
Van Beek said he has a special appreciation for the Basalt and El Jebel areas. He worked as a patrol deputy in the Roaring Fork Valley for about a year in 1995, then worked out of El Jebel for eight-week cycles regularly after that.
He said he would like to commit to basing four full-time, resident deputies in the Roaring Fork Valley, but that might be hard to stick to given the county’s budget situation.
“The reality is we may have to cut one or two deputies over there,” he said. The department might have to rotate in deputies from the headquarters in Eagle, he said, or place deputies on-call during slow times, like 3 to 5 a.m.
Van Beek said he suspects Hoy isn’t being frank when he says he is committed to keeping four, full-time deputies in Basalt and El Jebel.
The sheriff held a public meeting in El Jebel about a month ago to address rumors that he was cutting service for the Roaring Fork Valley. He assured about 20 people in attendance that the rumors were inaccurate. Despite having to trim $2 million from his budget, Hoy said he found a way to maintain the same level of service in Basalt and El Jebel.
Hoy said his department is on a hiring freeze, but an exception was made for the western part of the county. He hired a fourth deputy, who is now in training, to patrol there.
Hoy is making his department’s performance the focus of his campaign.
“We’re going to continue to do the top-notch job we’ve been doing,” he said.
Like Van Beek, Hoy has a record of serving his country. He served in the U.S. Army for 15 years.
Hoy is running as a Republican. Van Beek is not affiliated with a party.
Unlike the debate in the Pitkin County sheriff’s race, where drug enforcement policy separates the candidates, both Hoy and Van Beek committed to continued undercover drug enforcement in Eagle County. The department funds a drug task force, which includes undercover officers and informants.
The program is effective, Hoy said, and will continue to be funded at a high level despite the budget cuts. The task force consistently makes arrests in the Basalt and El Jebel areas for marijuana and cocaine sales as the result of the undercover work.
“I’d like to think we’re making a dent,” Hoy said. “We’re keeping it off the street.”
Van Beek said he would like to see an increase in funding for the task force, which also targets street crimes as well as arrests for distribution of drugs. He said he wants to place more effort on drug prevention programs as well.
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