The Dec. 2 raids of Cooper Street Pier and Little Annie’s Eating House in downtown Aspen continue to generate controversy in the community.Some citizens have called for a review of the city’s drug enforcement policies. Others have publicly supported the Aspen Police Department’s participation in the raids and argued for more stringent enforcement efforts in the future.On Tuesday, Jan. 17, the Aspen City Council will discuss with Police Chief Loren Ryerson and citizens at large the downtown raids. They will also delve into the city’s drug enforcement policy and possibly some of the “big picture” issues that lie behind that policy – a policy that was adopted in 1993, and revisited but not revised three years ago.Echoes of the pastThe current debate, curiously enough, echoes some of the public discussions that followed the Valley Hi bust in 1994.According to published reports, both Sheriff Bob Braudis and then-Police Chief Tom Stephenson (who once worked as a deputy for Braudis) said they resisted the DEA’s plans to raid the Valley Hi apartments.”Operations of this nature are the most violent police actions that are conducted in this country,” Stephenson told The Aspen Times at the time. “I’m opposed to them. They’re dangerous. They have a history of mistakenly targeting civilians.”Both Braudis and Stephenson said they were opposed to the Valley Hi raid at least partly because there were likely to be women and children in the half-dozen or so apartments targeted in the bust. They suggested the DEA try to arrest the alleged drug dealers at some other location than their homes.But Stephenson admitted the DEA “did a good job” in planning the raid and pulling it off without injuries to suspects, officers or civilians.At least one citizen, angered by the public statements of the upper valley’s top two law enforcement officials, went to a City Council meeting to demand that local officials become “more active in anti-drug activities.””I have two children that I’ve put through the schools here, and it’s been hard enough without the police saying things like this,” Tom Marshall declared at the time.Stephenson said he never opposed enforcement of the nation’s drug laws. Rather, he opposed tactics such as those used in the raid, which he called “insane and a recipe for disaster.” In a message left at The Aspen Times last week, Stephenson, who lives in Basalt but is no longer a law-enforcement officer, indicated his opinion remains the same today.Then-Mayor John Bennett and the City Council supported Stephenson’s stance regarding hardball police tactics. Then-City Council member Georgeann Waggaman went on to remind Marshall that the city had recently come down hard on a local bar, The Downtown Sports Center, over reports of drug dealing on the premises.”I think we have to be strong on drugs,” she said, “but I don’t think we need blood on the streets.”Questions of policyAt the upcoming Jan. 17 meeting, to be led by Mayor Helen Klanderud, council members are expected to direct questions at Ryerson, accept some level of public comment, and consult with City Manager Steve Barwick.It was Barwick who, in the wake of the Dec. 2 raids, called for the meeting; members of the council also have indicated they have a number of concerns they want aired.Councilman Jack Johnson, who currently is reading a book on “community policing” given to him by Ryerson, has a couple of specific questions for Aspen’s top law man.One of those is: “By what standard does a town decide to pursue dealers and not users? It’s a system and if one didn’t exist, the other wouldn’t exist.”An important point, he stressed, is, “I don’t thing there are any villains here.” He believes everyone involved in the downtown raids was acting in “what they felt were the best interests of the community.”As for the issue of any possible threats to public safety represented by armed police raiding local restaurants during business hours, Johnson noted that criminal activity such as drug dealing also is a threat to public safety and community well-being.Fellow councilman Torre wondered if the Aspen Police Department is “forwarding the will of the community.” Rather than conducting drug raids on public businesses, he suggested that “what we need to do in the community when it comes to drugs … is [pursue policies that are] preventative, not punitive.”He also called it “unacceptable” that Ryerson did not notify Braudis in advance of the raids. He further questioned whether Ryerson has adequate supervision of his department, given the reported fact that the raids were planned and commanded by one of his assistant chiefs, Glenn Schaffer.”I really want to know who’s calling the shots … who’s in charge,” Torre concluded.Councilwoman Rachel Richards, a former Aspen mayor, expressed strong concerns about the timing and location of the raids with regard to public safety. She worries that such situations are “very volatile” and that errors in judgment can lead to fatal consequences. She noted that Denver police recently shot and killed an innocent man in his bed when they erroneously stormed his home looking for a suspect.”You’re putting your community in a high-risk situation” with such operations, she maintained.More generally, Richards opposes undercover work because it has a potential to “create conflict between our citizens and the police” and can “destroy the community trust” in the police.Plus, while a lengthy undercover operation is under way, “It kind of means you’re looking the other way and letting it flourish in hopes of getting Mr. Big,” which she said does not serve the community well.
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