Who will be new top cop?
Aspen’s next police chief might be a man who is responsible for continuing to support the current “community policing” program. Or he might be a man who would push that concept even further, especially when it comes to kids. Or he might be a man who is just a little less keen on the whole “community policing” idea.But whoever the appointee is, the community can apparently rest assured that it will be a man and that there will be no radical changes in the way he runs the department.The three finalists for the job were in town yesterday for a day of interviews and speeches before the press and the public.All three candidates bring extensive backgrounds in police administration, yet each offers a background that is markedly different from the others’.There’s Keith Ikeda, who has spent 15 years of his 20-year law enforcement career in the Roaring Fork Valley, the last six as assistant chief of operations at the Aspen Police Department. Ikeda has played as big a part as anyone during the last decade in establishing the unusually close rapport that exists between the department and the city’s residents. He can be found on a variety of the valley’s community boards, including the Chemical Dependency Task Force and the Latino Networking Council.Then there’s Laguna Beach Police Department Lt. and Division Commander Dwight Henninger, who trains recruits for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and has two master’s degrees – one in business and one in public administration. Henninger, who expressed the least enthusiasm for community policing, is nevertheless a member of the community policing task force in Laguna Beach. He is also credited with forming the Cops & Clergy program in Laguna Beach, which gives the police department a chance to interact with churches and other community service providers.And finally, there’s Police Chief Joseph Cortez, from Brush, Colo., who moved to the eastern Colorado community after spending the first two-thirds of his career in resort communities in California. He makes no bones about his priorities when it comes to children – they are at the top of his list. To help them, he’s one of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) education officers in the Brush elementary school. And he developed the Adopt-a-Bike program that matches underprivileged youths with stolen or abandoned bicycles that end up at the police station but go unclaimed by their owners. Meet the press The candidates submitted to half-hour interviews with the local press yesterday, offering information about their backgrounds and answering questions about how they would enforce drug laws, how they would have dealt with last summer’s crime spree, what’s needed to connect the law enforcement community with the students and young adults who call Aspen home and, of course, community policing.On some issues the candidates held identical or very similar views. All three support the D.A.R.E. program, which puts cops in school classrooms. They all came up with fairly innovative and compassionate responses to the problem of kids and alcohol – each saying that the police need to be firm in their stance against alcohol use by teens, but also make it so teens feel comfortable calling them when needed.And all three were extremely wary about the idea of undercover police stings – something that hasn’t been undertaken by local cops in years.When asked how they planned to deal with Aspen’s long-standing tolerance – on many levels – toward recreational drug use, Henninger was the only one who wondered if it wasn’t time for a change.”As police chief, I have to take the stand that it won’t be tolerated,” he said. No matter the feelings of the community, Henninger was emphatic that the police department had no business condoning drug use at any level.”I understand the community has been tolerant in the past, but I also understand that some people may be questioning that philosophy now,” he said. He asked if it didn’t make sense for the community to take a step back in the wake of last summer’s crime spree and take a look at the message it’s sending to young people.Cortez, on the other hand, didn’t see as many problems with the way things are done here when it comes to enforcement of drug laws. He said he recognizes that Aspen is a place people come to “leave the real world behind,” and that may mean they do things they wouldn’t do at home.When it comes to drugs, the police department needs to make sure drugs aren’t being used in public places, and do what it can to discourage use in private. But, he said, “if somebody does drugs and does them responsibly behind closed doors, there’s no way the Aspen Police Department is going to know about it.”Ikeda’s response to the question focused more on the different methods the department currently employs in dealing with drug crimes. There’s arrest and prosecution, crisis intervention, education and treatment.”Treatment is about seven times more successful in getting someone off drugs than jail,” he said, adding that he would continue the current policies. “We do enforce drug laws.” The crime spree On the question of what they would have done differently in investigating or preventing last summer’s crime spree, Cortez said he would focus on establishing closer ties between police and students.”One of my goals will be to create an environment where people who know about something illegal that’s going on feel comfortable about making it known ahead of time or before it gets out of hand,” Cortez said.He added that he liked Crime Stoppers for Youth, a relatively new program in Colorado that gets teens reporting crimes anonymously to fellow teens who are more comfortable talking with the police. “I just found out about it, and I really think it is worth pursuing,” he said.Ikeda pointed out that any department faced with a situation like the one last summer is in a reactive situation, but said the department needed to use the crime spree and police response as a learning experience, especially when it comes to spotting problems ahead of time.”We are all responsible for the healthy upbringing of our youth,” he said. And he praised the subsequent formation of the Aspen Youth Council. “It’s a great start that gives us a chance to see how the police department and the youth interact, and how we can support them.”Henninger was a little more cautious in making any commitments. He said that he’d like to hear from the community about what it thought was the cause behind the crimes, and what it thinks needs to be done to prevent similar problems in the future.”I don’t feel comfortable commenting on how the investigation was handled,” he said.Then there’s the question of community policing. Ikeda, naturally, felt strongly that the police department’s relationship with the community is in outstanding shape, and he’d stay the course.Henninger said his philosophy put him roughly midway between law-and-order types and community-policing advocates, and he’d look closely at the department’s policies on community policing.And Cortez said he was thoroughly impressed with the community policing policies here, but promised to work them more vigorously when it comes to kids.
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