Breckenridge’s new police chief Jim Baird making switch from college town to ski town
Breckenridge’s new police chief will be switching from college town to ski town when he takes up his post in April, ending a 25-year career at the Ann Arbor Police Department in Michigan.
Jim Baird, who has served as Ann Arbor’s police chief since 2016, will be filling the top vacancy at the Breckenridge Police Department, which opened last August with the resignation of former chief Dennis McLaughlin.
Reached by phone after the town’s official announcement on Tuesday, Baird said he thought his career in Ann Arbor prepared him well for policing a town like Breckenridge, which can see huge influxes of visitors for special events and weekend powder days.
“From what I’m hearing, on Breckenridge’s busiest days, the town will swell up to 30,000 people,” he said. “For a home game, the University of Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor holds over three times that. So that difference in scale will be significant.”
Baird earned a Bachelor of Arts from Michigan State University and joined up with AAPD right out of the police academy. He worked his way up the ranks, becoming deputy chief of police in 2013 and taking over the top job in February 2016.
“I am very excited that Chief Baird has accepted our offer to be the new Chief of Police here in Breckenridge,” town manager Rick Holman said in a news release. “I think he will be a great fit with our police department and within the Breckenridge community. His experience in Ann Arbor and its role as a tourist destination will translate well for the Town of Breckenridge and our unique community. I look forward to working with him.”
Baird will be relocating from Stockbridge, Michigan, along with his wife and two younger children. Moving from the family home of more than two decades will be a big change, but one he is excited to make.
“When we were here for the interview process, what really sold us was just how everyone we met was without exception so welcoming,” he said. “This really seems like an incredible community, and I’m really looking forward to getting there and being part of what’s already a very highly functioning agency.”
Breckenridge is much smaller than Ann Arbor, but Baird said there were some key similarities, especially the frequent influx of visitors. Like Breckenridge’s skiers, the University of Michigan’s football fans were a key part of the local economy — but they didn’t always get along with locals.
“I think there’s a kind of constant tension between people who call a community home versus the ones that come in seasonally or to visit attractions,” Baird said. “Law enforcement-wise, those people are going to have different needs.”
In recent years, Breckenridge police have focused on using a “community policing” approach towards the town’s transient population, working to build trust with those people instead of burying them with tickets and fines. Baird said his experience with Ann Arbor’s homeless, who often suffered from mental illness and substance abuse issues, taught him a similar lesson.
“This issue you have is that although the police are the first on the line to deal with people who are experiencing those situations, it’s not a problem you’re going to arrest your way out of,” Baird said. “So it really has to be a comprehensive community approach with the service providers.”
In Ann Arbor, Baird said police worked closely with housing, mental health and homelessness assistance groups to get people the help they needed. Members of those organizations often went on ride-alongs with police so each could understand the others’ abilities — and limitations — in assisting the community’s most vulnerable.
Baird will start on April 23 and will later be joined by his wife, 11-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. Baird said he’s looking forward to picking up skiing again but that his son, who recently picked up snowboarding, is probably more excited to soon be living near the slopes.
Baird’s selection ends a several-month search that began after McLaughlin’s resignation in August 2017. In his resignation letter, McLaughlin said he was stepping down for family reasons. The circumstances of his departure are confidential per his severance agreement with the town, which agreed to pay him $10,000. The agreement prohibits both the town and McLaughlin from discussing the nature of his departure.
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