Summit County sheriff candidates debate safety, opioid epidemic at Summit County election forum |

Summit County sheriff candidates debate safety, opioid epidemic at Summit County election forum

Summit County Sheriff candidates Chris Scherr, left, and Jaime FitzSimons, right, participate in the Summit County election forum on Thursday, Oct. 13. The conversation centered around building relationships in the community, traffic safety and the opioid epidemic.
Cody Jones/Summit Daily News

Summit County sheriff candidates Jaime FitzSimons and Chris Scherr shared the floor for a 30-minute debate as part of the Summit County election forum on Thursday, Oct. 13, at the Summit County Community and Senior Center.

The two candidates spent the majority of their time talking extensively about building relationships with citizens, improving public safety and the opioid epidemic.

FitzSimons, the current sheriff up for reelection, began his opening remarks focusing on what he has done over the last 32 years in law enforcement, with the last 18 occurring in Summit County. FitzSimons was elected for his first official, four-year term as sheriff in 2018.

Next, Scherr introduced himself to the public as an independent candidate for Summit County sheriff. 

Scherr has 19 years of public safety experience. His career started in northern New Jersey as a volunteer firefighter.

Scherr began his career in Colorado as part of the Copper Mountain Resort ski and ride school until he became a ski patroller. After his stint at Copper Mountain, Scherr worked at St. Anthony Summit Hospital. 

More recently, Scherr started his law enforcement career with the Dillon Police Department in 2014.

Following both candidates’ opening remarks, Summit Daily News Editor Andrew Maciejewski moderated the candidates through a series of questions. 

Role of sheriff in the community 

When asked about the role of sheriff in the community and how to have better connections, Scherr was of the opinion that being transparent was the best way to improve relationships with the citizens of Summit County. 

“Our community needs to be absolutely aware of what our officers and deputies face everyday and what challenges our community faces every day,” Scherr said. “We have seen an increase of crime, we have felt it here in our community.”

Scherr ended with the point that transparency often leads to trust. 

“We need to have that transparency of good, bad or otherwise of the actions of our officers and deputies so that the community will trust us,” Scherr said. 

FitzSimons says he builds relationships with citizens with responsive community engagement. 

“If you look at all of the programs I have been involved in — that have been foundational in this community — it is from sitting down, walking through the doors, sitting at tables, listening to all of you,” FitzSimons said. 

FitzSimons said he has learned what needs to be addressed through these conversations, as well as what the community wants in order to better people’s lives and reduce crime. 

Speeding and traffic violations

The second question was centered around the increase in speeding and traffic violations over the last year in Colorado and how each candidate would address the problem if elected.

FitzSimons piggybacked off his answer to the first question by speaking about how the Summit County Sheriff’s Office has responded to the community by creating a traffic safety unit. 

“Not only (is it) out there to write tickets and enforce traffic, but to also bring awareness and education about the risks we are creating in this community,” FitzSimons said. 

If reelected, FitzSimons said he will continue to enforce traffic safety with help from partners in the Colorado State Patrol and local police agencies while also looking for new ways to address the problem.

Scherr said that traffic violation enforcement does not mean just writing a ticket, rather it looks like having officers deployed where fatal crashes, speeding and other traffic violations are taking place. 

“It starts with patrol,” Scherr said. “If we don’t have a focus on patrol as the very pinnacle of the Sheriff’s Office and have enough deputies to have a patrol we certainly cannot focus on keeping our community safe.”

Opioid epidemic 

The last question centered around what can be done to combat the rise in overdose deaths in Colorado. 

Scherr said that the Summit County community needs to bring back a drug task force, something the county has not had for the past 12 years.

“We need officers, deputies, from within our community,” Scherr said. “Not just one agency — multiple agencies — working together in a unified manner like we have seen in other communities.”

Scherr said he has seen overdoses go up in Summit County firsthand and used the opioid-overdose antidote naloxone on multiple occasions in order to save lives.

In FitzSimons’ rebuttal, he said he has been on the front lines trying to fight the drug epidemic for the past few years. FitzSimons has worked to introduce naloxone into the community, testified on House Bill 22-1326 and has been educating Summit’s youth about the risk of fentanyl.

“I have beat the pavement trying to talk about the opioid crisis, trying to work through Building Hope and all the other programs I am involved in to try to reduce the number of suicides,” FitzSimons said. “We have to keep at it.”

Election Day will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

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