Opinion | Susan Knopf: Keep us safe and reelect FitzSimons | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Susan Knopf: Keep us safe and reelect FitzSimons

The sheriff’s election is a lot like asking why the sixth grade class president shouldn’t be the superintendent of the school district. 

Experience, training and community relationships are essential elements that make a great county sheriff. We’re very fortunate because Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons doesn’t just tick all the boxes, he gets an “A” in every category.

Experience. He has more than five times the law enforcement experience of the guy running against him. FitzSimons has worked in our Sheriff’s Office 18 years. He served for 12 years, before being appointed sheriff in May 2016. In 2016, he ran in a special election. To get on cycle, he was reelected again in 2018. If we continue to like his work, he can be reelected to two more four-year terms. 

“The sheriff is considered by many to be the most powerful elected official in the county,” FitzSimons said. “Do the voters want to risk putting a trainee in the seat?” 

Consider the fires we’ve had in Summit County. I’ve heard friends say that we got lucky. Did we? Or did we have superbly coordinated services? We have great firefighters who fought the blazes and protected our homes and our lives. Those services are coordinated with other agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office. FitzSimons repeated frequently in our interview that his agency’s No. 1 priority is to “preserve life and property.”

Training. We are fortunate that FitzSimons believes training is very important. Peace Officer Standards and Training requires deputies to get 24 hours of in-service training. FitzSimons says Summit County deputies get 80-plus hours of training, more than three times the standard. 

FitzSimons expressed pride that his agency has already implemented Colorado Senate Bill 20-217 Enhanced Law Enforcement Standards requiring body cams and dashboard cams. These are important improvements Coloradans demanded following the horrific George Floyd case. 

Community relationships. “I care about the people,” said FitzSimons. I knew that. I can tell by the way he prioritizes his time. I always find him at big public meetings. He comes in, talks to people about their concerns and builds relationships that make our community strong. 

Creativity. It’s not one of the essential elements I named, but it’s FitzSimons secret crime fighting weapon. FitzSimons has long said “mental illness is at the nexus of every crime.” His best crime fighting weapons have been about “harm reduction.”

For the record, FitzSimons’ program — the Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team — is the model for the bill Sen. Michael Bennet introduced to Congress. The program, along with the jailhouse Strategies to Avoid Relapse and Recidivism program, help people get the mental health supports they need to move forward and not return to jail, and the Pretrial Assessment Services and Treatment Program work to keep people out of jail. 

It’s always curious when right-wingers complain about the cost of government and then advocate locking people up. Incarceration is expensive and seldom contributes to making people model citizens. Incarcerated people generally aren’t working and they don’t pay taxes; they consume our taxes. I am for any program that supports low risk offenders staying employed and staying out of jail. 

Supporters of judicial reform often start with the fallacy that monetary bonds protect society. Pretrial assessment gives judges a new tool to assess community risk and insure appearance without taxing those unable to pay. 

A new crime-fighting tool has just been deployed to stop the “influx of illegal drugs” in Summit County. A generous benefactor gave the Sheriff’s Office a dog and has paid for drug interdiction training. The program is just rolling out, but soon Summit County will be helping to stop the flow of illegal drugs running through our county. 

The sheriff’s jurisdiction is 684-square miles. You can’t be everywhere all the time. “Our computer aided dispatch system is designed to dispatch the jurisdictional agency and the closest unit,” FitzSimons said. Sometimes that means a municipal police officer may show up at a county location. It was the closest unit. That way the taxpayers get the best service. 

FitzSimons said he met with local politically active conservatives as he launched his reelection campaign. He says they told him, “Why would we run anyone against you? You’re doing a great job.” This is one time I agree with conservatives in this county. 

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