Smythe retires after 25 years as Snowmass Village police chief
Thirty-one years is a long time to go to work at the same place every day.
That’s how long Chief Art Smythe has been with the Snowmass Village Police Department. After also serving 25 years as the department’s head, he has announced his retirement, effective July 1.
Still, Smythe, 62, says it’s not because he’s tired of the job.
“It’s just been a really good run, and I’m just in a place in my life in terms of everything that I think it’s time for a change and for me to pursue more activities as opposed to work life,” Smythe said.
He also said that he feels that his officers are ready to take the reins. He says they are a “good group of people” who get along with one another and the community.
“Sometimes it’s hard to leave when things are going so well,” Smythe said. “It’s kind of like leaving a good relationship, but at the same time, I wanted to go on my own terms and go when things are good and feel that the town and the department are in good hands.”
Smythe also has been discussing succession with Sgt. Brian Olson for several years and feels that Olson is prepared to lead the department.
“It’s bittersweet,” Olson said about Smythe’s decision. “He’s got a great sense of humor, just that wicked wit … and just even a profound sense of thought. You go in to ask Art about stuff, and he’s got that thoughtfulness as he thinks things through, a unique perspective and way of thinking of things.”
Smythe is earning $122,574 a year as police chief.
Like many locals, Smythe moved to the Roaring Fork Valley to ski and worked at the Red Onion and as a ski instructor on Aspen Highlands. Looking for a career, he started working for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office in 1979.
In 1982, he moved over to the Snowmass department, following one of his supervisors who had just been named chief. The officers came to Snowmass with a new approach that the department has carried through Smythe’s tenure, he said.
“I think right from the beginning we realized what this town is,” Smythe said. “It’s a community, but it’s a resort community, and being a resort community means we’re all in the guest-service business here.
“That’s our focus. The enforcement stuff is a significant part of our job, and there are incidents that happen. … (But) our job is to go out and basically help people have a good time here or do what you can to maintain the good quality of life we all have here.”
The department has been successful in retaining employees for long periods of time, and one of the reasons is that Smythe hires individuals from the community.
“Do people have a close connection to the community?” Smythe said. “That’s much more important, and their general character much more important, than law enforcement experience.”
“That creates a department that’s much better connected,” Olson said. “Art started that. … We’ve always hired the person first and turned them into a police officer later.”
Town Manager Gary Suiter, also the town manager from 1990 to 2001, said Smythe is “exemplary.”
“He’s always been a rock-solid department head both last time around with my stint in Snowmass Village as well as this time around,” Suiter said. “If you look at the stability of his department, his workforce over the years, it’s incredible.”
As town manager, Suiter needs to do what he calls “due diligence” — talking to the officers, checking references and conducting an in-person interview — before naming Olson as police chief. Olson, 53, has been a Snowmass officer for almost 27 years, so Suiter has worked with him for a long time, too.
“I expect that to be done in the next couple of weeks, and I expect a smooth transition,” Suiter said.
Smythe, who’s worked with every Town Council except the first one or two, said he didn’t have a particularly favorite memory from his tenure.
“I don’t really, just more of a general positive feel for what we’ve accomplished as a group out here over time,” Smythe said.
“Certainly there are things just related to our profession that are very unpleasant from time to time, and I’m not going to miss those,” Smythe said. “But if you can imagine, I’ve stayed here so long because it is a good place to work. … It’s just the place to be to be chief of police as far as I’m concerned.”
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