The Aspen police’s refreshing communication approach

Meredith Carroll
Muck Off

Last month, my friend Heather and I bobbed and weaved our way down Denver’s 16th Street Mall to avoid what Denver Mayor Michael Hancock described politely as “urban travelers” and, less-so, a “scourge of hoodlums.” However, since our visit came soon after the sniper-style killings of police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Dallas, it was the sight of a few law enforcement officials at one intersection that managed to officially raise our hackles.

“Walking by them feels like the riskiest thing we can do right now,” Heather said.

Donald Trump said something outrageous and offensive last week. I can’t remember what it was, only that no one was startled. It happened around the same time the Islamic State killed an elderly Catholic priest in France, which was heartbreaking, although not out of character with the jihadist militant group’s pattern of horror.

The new normal over the past several months has emerged as one wherein terrible people say and do unfathomable things without managing to move the needle on anyone’s shock register. From international and domestic terrorism, mass shootings, police officers killing and being killed, and the Republican presidential nominee — while it’s common to react with sadness, anger and despair, surprise has all but been eliminated from the list of emotions likely to be felt.

What has emerged as a pleasant revelation in recent months, however, is the Aspen Police Department’s Facebook page. Written largely by Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn, its status updates are equal parts hilarious and revealing about its overall approach. While the Police Department and Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office may not see the same level of catastrophes here that unfold on the world stage, they still rise uniquely to the nuanced challenges that develop — sometimes with more irreverence than others.

When Glenwood Canyon closed for rockfall mitigation Wednesday, for instance, instead of sitting back idly and waiting for the inevitable road rage to ensue due to the increased traffic in and out of town, sheriff’s deputies and police officers pre-empted any added chaos by intercepting trucks that appeared to be heading toward Independence Pass, where vehicles longer than 35 feet are prohibited.

“Maybe this would be a good last-minute time for a Moab trip, or something. 110 degrees might be easier to bear than traffic,” the Police Department warned on Facebook. “We’ll do our best to keep it flowing, but it’s gonna be hard fitting the entire Colorado River through the drinking straw that is Highway 82 through town.”

“Can someone tell me who from the police department handles their social media, cause they’re awesome!” one person commented.

“We have 13 monkeys locked up in an office in the courthouse basement, each get a turn at the laptop,” was the APD’s response. “Then we spellcheck it and send it out.”

Later that day, Independence Pass shut down in both directions, although not because a semi managed to sneak through and get stuck on one of the infamous hairpin curves. It was due to an armed man who took hostages near Lincoln Creek and fired a semiautomatic weapon in the direction of sheriff’s deputies.

“A night of thankfulness as everyone goes home safely tonight, good guys and the other guy too,” the Aspen Police Department posted on Facebook a few hours later. “We recognize the impacts to all the traffic trying to get over the pass, and wish to thank you for your patience.”

Notably cheeky Aspen Police Department Facebook entries over the past few weeks have been about the spate of car vandalism in the West End, a bike thief outside The Little Nell, a bindle of cocaine at a self-checkout station at City Market and Community Response Officer Audrey Radlinski marching a family of ducks out of a downtown boutique. Despite the a widely held sense that World War III has erupted and the good guys and bad guys are increasingly hard to differentiate, the droll yet scrupulous style of Aspen’s uniformed army will ensure at least kids here won’t grow up with an innate suspicion of people wearing badges.

When they’re not on duty in our schools, neighborhoods, stores, bars, pot shops, restaurants and on the streets, Aspen police officers and sheriff’s deputies are often attending or hosting neighborhood and nonprofit events, and even dancing in them (looking at you, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo). By immersing themselves personally and professionally with the people they’re charged with defending, the “us versus them” rhetoric is better described as “we’re all in this together.”

That neither the suspect nor hostages nor deputies were hurt during last week’s episode up the pass is an enormous tribute to a type of community policing that should inspire other areas to take note: Believe implicitly that most people are good — in large part because you know and have spent time with them — and more situations may be resolved skillfully and with peace instead of a piece.

More at