Summit County police focused on knowing the community
and ROBERT ALLEN
summit daily news
SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit County has its own particular brand of law-enforcement issues – it’s rural, but it’s also a resort area on a main interstate, making it a melting pot of people. This means community policing in the area can be quite different from what happens in the Denver-metro area.
“We get to know our county and our owners,” said Silverthorne Police officer Theresa Barger. She added that business owners, security guards and other locals can provide important information about law-enforcement issues, so it’s good to stay connected while patrolling on foot or in cars.
Community policing uses partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address public safety issues. Barger said putting on classes, or simply talking to pedestrians is a good way to put the philosophy into practice. She also noted that it’s more difficult to use community policing methods in metro areas like Denver simply because it’s a bigger area to cover.
“If you’re going call to call, how are you going to be proactive?” she said. “It takes a lot of man power for community policing. Knowledge is always power, and prevention is hard if you don’t know the area.”
Adopt an Angel, the Safe Summer program and fraudulent document classes are all examples of connecting with the community through proactive policing, Barger added.
“Community policing means something different to everybody,” Barger said. “The county focuses on it with projects.”
Silverthorne’s chief of police Mark Hanschmidt said communication is the key to the success of policing Summit County.
“I learned at an early age that you have to be able to talk to people,” Hanschmidt said.
As a police officer in Summit County, sometimes “we’re few and far between” so being able to talk through a potentially dangerous situation is a great skill to have, Hanschmidt said.
Both Hanschmidt and Dillon’s police chief Joe Wray stressed the importance of local law enforcement officers working together to service the community, backing each other up when serious situations arise. They believe in “community policing,” or partnering with the community to understand the needs of locals and visitors alike.
“As first responders, we staff personnel for 24/7/365 coverage to handle any incoming calls for service,” Wray said. “When we have special events such as the BBQ, concerts, certain DUI enforcement periods, or other ‘special needs,’ we will add staff as needed on overtime.”
Breckenridge police use day- and night-shift “Patrol priorities and community initiatives” as a monthly sort of map for policing, which lists events, locations and service expectations.
During Oktoberfest in September, officers were assigned to specific zones.
The priorities and initiatives also include partnership opportunities such as meeting and greeting employees at bars and hotels, or service such as ensuring the Breckenridge Transit Station’s doors and windows are locked.
And some problems have been accommodated just by working with the community to find solutions.
“Our goal is not to write a ticket and keep responding to the same problem,” Breckenridge chief of police Rick Holman said.
For example, people living near La Cima Mall often complained about noise from nearby bars in the summertime, because people sleep with their windows open, Holman said.
The department worked with bar owners to have doors closed at certain times and to reduce music volume each night at 10 p.m.
But this type of law enforcement doesn’t always address crimes of opportunity.
“People come to Summit County and think they don’t need to lock their house and car,” Hanschmidt said.
If there’s a major theft problem, instead of just patrolling, Hanschmidt likes to figure out why there’s a problem and work with residents to stop it. He instructs his police officers to look at how and why criminal activity happens and then to be proactive.
Even with the small town vibe, local officers always have to be on their guard.
With I-70 bringing all sorts of characters to the county, Summit County Sheriff John Minor said his deputies are “always cautious by nature.”
“We live by the mantra, ‘Treat others the way you want to be treated,'” he said.
Though many people complain when they get parking or speeding tickets, Hanschmidt and Wray both said that instead of just writing tickets, they look at solutions with homeowner associations, residents, visitors and towns.
“Yes, there are times that officers do not conduct themselves well,” Wray said. “But, that’s not all that common because they know they’re constantly being watched and scrutinized by everyone. … No other profession undergoes standards or are scrutinized as closely as police officers.”
And once a police officer is hired, they’re under constant public study. “People complain about scowls, glares, squinting, even a female officer’s jewelry,” Wray said. “But there’s also legitimate complaints about things like an officer’s driving. As an administrator, I take conduct and performance of officers very seriously. We serve the public, not ourselves.”
Dillon’s advisory committee member Roman Moore said he doesn’t find heavy-handed policing to be an issue in the town.
“I just think they’re doing their job,” Moore said, noting that it’s not a big city, so more warnings and tickets for things like traffic and bicycling will occur. He also said police officers are protecting people who have unsafe behavior, like running through a stop sign.
“They don’t want anything bad to happen,” Moore said.
Both the Silverthorne and Dillon police departments rely on local input when servicing the county. A Latino advisory committee to local police departments formed through Global Summit, and it has been meeting for the last year-and-a-half. A Global Summit leadership training also was held to educate immigrant populations and dispel rumors about local police services.
“We get feedback from the community through the citizen’s advisory panel, the Citizen’s Police Academy, local business associations, homeowner associations, civic club affiliations, information from other town departments, third (parties), and most importantly, just making yourself available,” Wray said.
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