Weyer: Behind the badge
November 9, 2013
I'll be the first to admit that my world view, which currently consists of the 40-mile stretch between Aspen and Glenwood Springs, has become rather skewed during the three years I have been a member of the Aspen Police Department.
I became acutely aware of this fact while dining with some friends in Carbondale last week, one of whom had recently been pulled over for speeding. A habitual offender, I'm quite surprised that she even noticed the glare of red and blue lights in her rearview mirror. After nearly 10 car stops, this was the first time she had been issued a ticket. Given her extensive research on the topic, she reported to the group that officers are required to make people wait in their cars for at least 20 minutes as punishment for their actions.
Enter my potentially skewed reality. Did I hear her right? Could she really believe that? This is a highly educated young woman who has a solid head on her shoulders; I don't just fraternize with anyone, you know. I couldn't help but jump in and immediately start explaining the process an officer goes through when they pull someone over — little things like finding out if the driver might be carrying a concealed weapon or making sure they're not wanted for assault in a neighboring county, not to mention that the 911 dispatch center might be going off the hook with a more critical situation at that very moment. Do people really think officers are intentionally trying to ruin their day? Apparently some do.
Although a friend griping about a speeding ticket may not have warranted my particular level of defensiveness, it is not the first time that I've been faced with trying to dispel myths and rhetoric surrounding the world of law enforcement. I realize that every community is different, and my experience is limited to the valley, but I have learned a great deal over the past three years about the dedication and sacrifice necessary for someone to pursue this career. It takes a true calling and sense of duty.
Please entertain me for one short paragraph as I dote on the Aspen Police Department. The supervisors within this department take great pride in hiring qualified individuals who understand what it means to serve the Aspen community. We seek out trustworthy people who possess a superior level of decision-making skills and discretion when interacting with members of the community, officers who are able to use their life experience and training to look at a situation objectively.
Let us remember that the original intent of peace officers was to help community members feel a sense of safety and well-being. Somewhere along the line this got replaced by a mentality that police officers are "out to get us." Here at the Aspen Police Department, we strive to get back to the heart of what it means to be a peace department. It is our priority to be highly visible and approachable within our community, starting as young as the kindergartners in our schools. Officers are encouraged to walk the malls, enjoy a cup of coffee with locals or hang out with kids at the skate park. We strive to develop positive rapport with local business owners, citizens and visitors in an attempt to restore confidence in police officers.
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The same officers you see on the street are parents, partners, friends and coaches. The list goes on. Like you, they desire a safe haven so they can enjoy Aspen to its fullest. Sometimes this means they need to enforce the laws; there's about a 1 in 10 chance you will get a speeding ticket, but it is not because we're out to get you. It is because we care about maintaining a community that respects everyone's health and safety. We are here for you.
Had you asked me five years ago where I'd be in life, I couldn't have conjured up my current existence. I wouldn't change it for the world. Each of our officers, past and present, have taught me what it looks like to treat people with the respect they deserve, rise above difficult situations and put others ahead of themselves every single day. My reality may be skewed, but I like to think in a positive way. I hope you think twice about the person behind the badge the next time you encounter a peace officer.
Blair Weyer is the community relations specialist for the Aspen Police Department and welcomes questions or comments at 970-920-5400.
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