Letter: An insider’s take on the Basalt Police Department
An insider’s take on the BPD
As a former employee of the Basalt Police Department, I am one of the few people who worked with Chief O’Connor, Sgt. Paxton, and Sgt. Curry.
It was my observation that every officer, sergeant, and employee of BPD were honest hard working men and women dedicated to their profession and their community. They were all guided by high ethical standards and performed their jobs with passion and integrity. My experience with former Chief Roderick O’Conner was very different.
Sgt. Curry and Sgt. Paxton were good leaders, honest, and even when I disagreed with a decision, at an appropriate time, they took the time to explain how they arrived at a given conclusion. I felt they led by example and wanted their staff to succeed. Again, my experience with former Chief O’Conner was very different.
I would humbly and respectfully disagree with Sgt. Paxton’s publicized opinion that Chief O’Connor treated her differently because she was female. I never witnessed former Chief O’Connor treat his female employees any differently from the male employees. It was my observation that Chief O’Connor’s arrogance, condescension, hubris and disrespect for his subordinates were dispensed in an equal-opportunity fashion. I personally witnessed or was subjected to many of the behaviors specified by other BPD employees outlined in published accounts of the Mountain States Employers Council report.
It is my opinion that the adversarial relationship Mr. O’Connor chose to have with his staff partially stemmed from his lack of law-enforcement experience compared to that of his subordinates. Many of his subordinates, including myself, had considerably more experience, either quantitatively, qualitatively, or both. (My experience is available for public review at http://www.RyanMillbern.com). This appeared to be an irritation rather than a comfort.
In my opinion, it is abundantly self-evident that Mr. O’Connor’s record as a supervisor and administrator is appalling. Ms. Tippits’ published comments to Mr. Scanlon were truthful and spot on. Both current and former dedicated, professional, and honorable law-enforcement officers were victimized by his behavior and suffered irreparable harm to their careers during his tenure as a sergeant and chief. I became one of those victims when former Chief O’Connor chose to be untruthful with the media and investigators regarding a false allegation against me. I am still saddened by his lack of judgment in those matters and I am still trying to professionally recover from the tarnish Mr. O’Connor unjustly placed on my career. Unfortunately, I am not alone.
Clearly he was a terrible supervisor and team member; however, it was also clear to me that former Chief O’Connor was not a bad person. He was not. Period. There is a difference between boorishness and malevolence. I believe a quote from Napoleon sums up this situation best: “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence”. I am thoroughly convinced that the harm he caused to the community of Basalt, the Basalt Police Department and his employees was neither deliberate nor malicious in nature.
It was my experience working with him that he deeply cared for the Basalt community and was committed to continually improving the relationship between the community and its police force. It was my observation that he reached out to every group of the Basalt community whether wealthy, poor, old, young, blue collar or white collar in that mission. O’Connor rarely responded to calls for service during my tenure; however, on the occasions which I witnessed him interacting with the public, regardless if they were a suspect, witness, or victim, he was very respectful, professional and ethical. Even when he didn’t know how to handle the call from a law enforcement perspective, he genuinely wanted to help the public in any way possible. His concern for the community as a whole, and a given individual on a call for service, was authentic and his desire for problem solving was evident and tireless. I was impressed with his sincerity and dedication with these efforts. However, it was inexplicable to me that the same professionalism, dedication, integrity, passion, and basic courtesy that he consistently showed the public were not extended to his staff.
It is my understanding that Mr. O’Connor is already re-employed in law enforcement, in a non-supervisory role, and has chosen to continue his dedication to public service. It is my sincere hope that he, and anyone else who puts their life on the line to protect the public, stays safe in the line of duty, finds success, and has an opportunity to learn from competent supervisors.
I hope, at some point, Mr. O’Connor can take responsibility for his actions and acknowledge the damage that was left in his wake. It is also my wish that Sgt. Curry, Sgt. Paxton and the other good men and women of the Basalt Police Department not be blamed for Mr. O’Connor’s behavior, the situation he put them in, or the town’s decisions in how to deal with the ongoing issues. None of what happened was their fault.
Finally, I would like to thank the residents of Basalt and the citizens of the Roaring Fork Valley for your kindness during my artificially short time with BPD. It was my honor to wear a Basalt Police Department badge. I am very proud of my service to you and will always remember the warmth in which I was welcomed into your community. Thank you.
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Editor’s note: This letter was directed to Aspen City Council and Mayor Torre.