FitzSimons campaign for Summit County Sheriff pushes for mental health resources
October 12, 2018
Jaime FitzSimons believes that his work as Summit County Sheriff over the last 29 months speaks for itself. But he's not done yet.
The Democratic incumbent in the upcoming election stepped into the role in May 2016 following former Sheriff John Minor's departure for the Silverthorne Police Department, and subsequently won the 2016 election against current challenger Derek Woodman. But despite more than two years in office, there's still a lot to check off on FitzSimon's to-do list.
"I want to continue to build upon the successes and accomplishments that I've had over the last 29 months," said FitzSimons. "But there's a lot more work to do. I love my job, I love this community and I want to continue serving it."
Like Woodman, FitzSimons is a California kid. He grew up in Los Angeles where he started his career in law enforcement at the Los Angeles Police Department in 1990. With the LAPD he served as a patrol sergeant and detective, along with specialized work in the gang and undercover narcotics units.
He moved to Summit County in 2005 where he took on a job at the Summit County 911 Center before joining the Summit County Sheriff's Office as a patrol deputy.
"My family had vacationed here forever," said FitzSimons. "We really just fell in love with Breckenridge and always dreamed of eventually moving here."
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From there, FitzSimons began his journey up the ranks of the sheriff's office. He was promoted to detective in 2006, and was made operations division commander two years later. He joined the Summit County Combined Special Weapons and Tactics Team in 2013, and was appointed sheriff by the Summit County Board of Commissioners in May 2016.
For FitzSimons, his time in office is best defined by presence, or as he put it, a willingness to demand a "seat at the table" on important community issues.
FitzSimons boasts participation in a broad range of community organizations, both inside and outside of the realm of law enforcement. He currently sits on the advisory board of Building Hope, a community initiative to create a more effective mental health system in the community. Additionally, he serves as a board member for the TreeTop Child Advocacy Center, a member of the Colorado Commission for Adult Offender Supervision, and was appointed by Governor John Hickenlooper to The Court Security Cash Fund Commission earlier this year, among a number of other organizations he currently has a stake in.
"The thing that's awesome about Summit County, in my 14 years here, is that whenever there's an issue in this community we rise to the occasion and we tackle the issue," said FitzSimons of his willingness to engage with community partners. "Being the elected sheriff gives me the opportunity to walk through doors and demand a seat at tables that I wouldn't be able to get otherwise. And because I'm elected I am the voice of the people."
In addition to serving on a number of community boards, FitzSimons also emphasized a number of programs within the sheriff's office he helped to implement while in office. He noted the resurgence of the school resource officer program, which briefly died from 2010-14, and only retained one officer until 2017. He pointed to a number of new security measures installed at the detentions facility to better protect inmates and deputies, including a new surveillance system, intercom and contracted medical provider to give screenings to inmates. He also noted the expansion of the household medication take back program, and improved technologies and facilities for Summit County's Search and Rescue and Water Rescue teams.
But FitzSimons recognizes a number of issues in the county that still need to be addressed, namely the mental health of individuals coming into contact with law enforcement. FitzSimons' first priority is finding a way to keep people with severe mental health issues out of jail, and out of a cycle that includes self-medication, criminal behavior, arrest, treatment, release and repeat.
"Moving forward, I'm looking for new and better ways to find solutions," said FitzSimons. "Our community has had a drug court for years, and that court finds a path for people with substance abuse issues to find a way to get treatment while also adjudicating their criminal case. There are mental health courts with similar structures. Not every charge will qualify, but we should be setting people on a path for treatment. …otherwise when they leave, they go back to self-medicating and we're back to square one."
FitzSimons also intends to place a "mental health navigator" at the jail, essentially someone to advise inmates on how to effectively seek treatment once leaving the jail, along with the development of an acute treatment unit being constructed in Frisco.
Another of FitzSimons' major concerns for the office is the increased call volume over recent years. According to FitzSimons, the office's year-to-date call volume is 15-18 percent higher than this time last year, with the same level of resources to handle calls. He said that he's tried to combat the issue in a number of ways — by creating a substation at the County Commons to reduce response times, and even creating mobile offices in patrol vehicles for a time — but further action is needed.
FitzSimons is advocating for the creation of a full-service office at the County Commons in Frisco, but noted that ultimately the need is for more deputies.
"I get my budget from the county," explained FitzSimons. "If I'm not granted the request, there's not a lot I can do. But increasing our presence is a mission of the sheriff's office. We can't let the needle go too far one way, and hope to play catch-up when it's too late."
FitzSimons also addressed a number of criticisms levied against him during the campaign, including assertions that he's a "part-time sheriff." FitzSimons has a well-documented second career in the movie business, working as both an actor and a consultant since David Ayer's 2008 crime thriller "Street Kings." Since becoming sheriff, he's only worked on one film, 2017's Will Smith vehicle "Bright."
"I'm very proud of my work in movies," said FitzSimons. "I find it a therapeutic creative outlet for me. … and any movie I've worked on has been on my own vacation time."
FitzSimons also holds a real estate license, though it is currently inactive, according to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies Division of Real Estate.
FitzSimons has also taken heat from a dark incident that played out during his time with the LAPD. In May 1998, LAPD officer Nadine Arango apparently committed suicide by ramming her car into a freeway pillar, months after revealing an extramarital affair with FitzSimons, her superior. Arango first attempted suicide by overdose earlier that year, after which she revealed the affair to her psychologist, according to a 2002 lawsuit brought against FitzSimons and the LAPD by Arango's estranged husband, claiming Arango had been sexually harassed.
A California Court of Appeals upheld a summary judgment rejecting the wrongful death suit in 2002, effectively releasing both the LAPD and FitzSimons from liability for Arango's suicide.
"This has been addressed in the past," said FitzSimons. "I stand on my record of being sheriff, and I'll let the community judge me by my actions over the last 29 months."
FitzSimons has also been criticized for not responding to the Peak 2 Fire in July 2017, while he was on vacation with his wife. According to FitzSimons, he was vacationing on Marco Island, a small island off the southwest coast of Florida when the fire hit. He said that he was in constant contact with Summit officials throughout the process, and urged critical individuals to look at his response during the recent Buffalo Fire in Silverthorne.
"The people I left in my stead I fully trust, as should the community," said FitzSimons. "No matter the critical incident there will always be someone in place to manage that incident. That's what's important."
Regardless of past successes or criticisms, FitzSimons says he's already looking to the future.
"I will continue to give 120 percent to this community," said FitzSimons. "I have demonstrated that I'm everybody's sheriff, and a truly dedicated public servant. I have always put first and foremost how we can better serve this community. … and I'm asking for your vote to re-elect me as your sheriff."