In his father’s footsteps |

In his father’s footsteps

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of articles featuring ridealongs with officers from local law enforcement agencies.

FRISCO – Mark Kelley doesn’t care if adults smoke. But he wouldn’t mind if the entire world abolished the unhealthy habit. And the law says stores can’t sell cigarettes to anyone under age 18. So, Officer Kelley enjoys performing tobacco and alcohol compliance checks.

As a Dillon police officer, Kelley performs the checks as a special project, assigned by the chief. Organized by the health-promoting Summit Prevention Alliance, the compliance stings send real teens with their own driver’s licenses into stores and restaurants to see how well clerks and bartenders check identification. The employees, and possibly the business, are issued warnings or citations for violating the age-limit laws.

Kelley was part of a countywide effort Wednesday to check up on Summit’s 40 state-licensed cigarette vendors.

“Don’t own a business and not do it right,” Kelley said. “It’s pretty simple. I’m glad to be a part of it.”

1:30 p.m. – It’s Kelley’s day off. The officer of 18 months likes to fish or visit friends and family in the Denver area when he’s off-duty, but the tobacco compliance check is worth the time. He meets at the Summit Prevention Alliance office in Frisco and discusses the procedure for each stop with officers from the county’s four other law enforcement agencies.

The officers must document everything. They photocopy the money the teens will use. They photocopy the teens’ driver’s licenses. They take pictures of the buyers. If any decoy makes a purchase, they will photograph the evidence – cigarette pack and change – and secure it at their department.

3:20 p.m. – The decoy teen teamed with Kelley and Summit County Sheriff’s Office deputies Rick Romain and Jeff Wilson is unable to buy from the first Keystone-area store. Kelley is pleased, and the officers congratulate the clerk.

“I got started kind of late in police work – I’m 30,” Kelley said. “But it’s something I wanted to do most of my life.”

His father is a retired police officer. Kelley is proud to be a second-generation cop, but he made sure it was the right thing for him to do, at the right time. When Kelley was in high school, one of his father’s comrades was killed in the line of duty. The death deterred Kelley. He went to trade school. He worked as a manager for a tire store, at Denver International Airport and delivery driver jobs.

“You name it, I did it,” Kelley said. “I wanted to be sure I had the maturity and the common sense, the experience to be a good police officer.”

3:38 p.m. – A second Keystone store passes the test, but the third fails. The Sheriff’s deputies write the ticket (it’s their jurisdiction) and Kelley begins a witness statement to add to the deputies’ report.

He likes the low-profile job of being the “undercover” witness in the store. It’s a role he hopes to reprise in other police work.

“I like my anonymity,” Kelley said. “I’ve already had one person I arrested come up to me like we’re buddies. I told him, “Hey, I still have to testify in court on your case.’ I guess I’ll enjoy it while I have it.”

3:45 p.m. – The teen scores another buy. Because of the teen’s extremely young appearance, Kelley is flabbergasted another clerk has sold to her. “I nearly fell over in there,” he said, laughing.

4:43 p.m. – After another Keystone check with no sale, Kelley and the group are back on his beat – Dillon. Kelley likes police work in a small town; it’s exactly what his father did.

“Dillon was the first department to give me a chance out of the academy,” Kelley said. “I love it. It’s expensive to live here, but it’s beautiful. And I like the pace: In Denver, you go call-to-call and never get anything done. Here, there’s enough action to let me learn at my pace and enough time to really accomplish something.”

The group checks three stores and Kelley is proud that all pass the compliance check. The officer congratulates the clerks and tells them to keep up the good work.

5:05 p.m. – Kelley rides along with the group to help check stores at Copper Mountain. He likes the mutual assistance among the Summit County police departments; it allows him to observe and learn a lot more. Working alone in a big jurisdiction such as Park or Eagle counties, Kelley said, he would worry about how long help would take to reach him if he was in trouble.

“It was pretty sobering when I first got hired – the department sent me down to get fitted for my vest,” Kelley said. “I was looking at the fabric, tapping on the plate and thinking, “This is supposed to stop a bullet?’ That’s when it hit me: Every day, I’ll be putting on this gun and this badge and driving around in a car that could potentially make me a target.

“But I was all right with that,” Kelley said. “That’s when I knew this was right for me.”

Since then, he’s learned police officers can control people’s reactions by the way they initiate contacts. He’s never had to wrestle or mace anyone, and he’s proud of that.

6 p.m. – The four Copper Mountain businesses have passed the compliance check. Kelley and the group return to Frisco to eat pizza and discuss what other groups found in the checks. He’d much prefer this sort of work to dealing with drunks, he said.

“And the part of the job that really makes it worthwhile are the people that think you’re doing something more than you had to,” Kelley said. “And a lot of times, it was nothing. A woman lost her wallet. I looked, but didn’t find it and she couldn’t thank me enough. I couldn’t understand it.

“That’s the part I like,” Kelley said. “And I think that makes my dad proud.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or

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