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Gypsum police department on hold

Kathy Heicher

After studying the costs and logistics of creating their own police department, Gypsum leaders have decided that particular goal is one for the future. For now, they’ll continue to contract law-enforcement service with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

“There are so many things going on with our budget right now, a police department just isn’t going to fit in,” said Town Manager Jeff Shroll, indicating that a town police department is at least three or four years down the road.

The town has some ambitious capital project plans for the near future, including an indoor recreation center, a roundabout at the intersection of U.S. Highway 6 and Interstate 70, and remodeling of the Lundgren barn, adjacent to the Town Hall, into a community amphitheater.

Currently, Gypsum pays the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office about $80,000 per year for the services of one officer, who works 40 hours per week in the town. Shroll said the budget includes a similar amount of money for a second officer in 2003; but the details of whether a second officer is available will have to be worked out with the sheriff-elect, Joe Hoy.

The town also owns two police vehicles, a sedan and a recently-purchased four-wheel drive Ford Expedition. The vehicles bear the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office logo on the doors, with the words “Gypsum Unit” underneath.

Town leaders have indicated their preference is to continue with the contract arrangement with the Sheriff’s Office, and gradually work their way into establishing what would probably be a five-man department.

Bob Silva, Gypsum’s designated officer, said his typical duties typically include dealing with juvenile and adult cases. He primarily works afternoons and evenings, checking in with the town staff every couple of days. Some days are slow, others are hectic, as council members who have participated in ride-alongs with Silva can attest.

Sam Mamet, associate director of the Colorado Municipal League, says there is no particular rule of thumb dictating when a town becomes big enough or has enough criminal activity to warrant creation of a town police force.

“This all turns on what level of public-safety response and service the community itself desires,” he said.

The kind of issues that typically push a community toward establishing its own department tie in with the nature of the municipal court workload, he said, and the level of service that citizens are seeking.

The town of Eagle, which has a population of 3,032 – about 600 fewer people that Gypsum – established its own police department in the mid-1970s. Currently, there are eight full-time employees on the Eagle Police Department staff, including a chief, a sergeant, regular officers, a community-service officer and a secretary. The town of Minturn, which has a population of just over 1,000 residents, also has its own small police force.

Gypsum, meanwhile, is one of 28 municipalities in the state that currently contracts law-enforcement services from a county sheriff’s office. Most of those communities, including as Yampa, Winter Park, and Walden, are very small, with less than 1,000 residents. A few communities contract with a neighboring municipality for police services.

Mamet said contracting law enforcement with county agencies is a viable option for small towns, particularly in these times of tighter budgets.

“Running a police department is not inexpensive. You’ve got training, health benefits and equipment,” he said.

Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell said the Eagle Police Department’s annual budget, $675,00 a year, includes contracted animal-control services with the county, dispatch fees to the town of Vail and other related costs.

Mamet said one of the ironies of small-town life is that once a police department is established, the crime statistics start rolling in, because officers are on hand to document incidents.

Shroll pointed out that Gypsum always has law enforcement through the Sheriff’s Office. When the town officer isn’t on duty, there is typically a county officer working the airport, or a deputy on patrol at the west end of the county.

“We’ve been pleased with basically everything the sheriff has done for us. … Police departments are obviously draining on town budgets. We’d probably feel differently if the Sheriff’s Office didn’t give us good service,” Shroll said. “As long as the relationship works for them, it works for us.”

This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.


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