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Serve and protect, indeed

Staff Reports

As a precursor to your story on the Vail Police (Vail Trail, Nov. 29-Dec. 5), two years ago, on the night of Nov. 18, 2000, I rode with the Vail Police. Not only was it a night to remember, it showed VPD at their best. Here’s a synopsis of how the night went: 7 p.m.: A briefing from Sgt. Susan Douglas to a half dozen young officers on the day’s and night’s activities; seems innocuous enough to me. 8 p.m.: We stop a light truck for exceeding the speed limit by 18 mph. It’s a couple from Texas, hungry and tired, looking for something to eat. They get a warning and directions to McDonald’s. 8:30 p.m.: A call comes in about a possible fire at the Marriott, which just happens to be filled with a number of skiers catching the early snow. Arriving at the Marriott, we see it’s a serious fire (later determined to cause $15 million in damage). The immediate task is evacuating guests in the effected wing, a job the Marriott staff had already begun. But there are six floors to cover and no elevators running. What I witnessed over the next four hours can make us all proud of our public service officers.Despite the danger of smoke-filled rooms with water cascading down and ceilings collapsing around them, I saw police and firemen search every room.I saw the police calm guests huddling in the lobby, some in their night clothes.I saw an officer go back to a room in the burning wing to rescue a guest’s must-have medication. He then required oxygen to steady his breathing, but in a flash he was back on the job.I saw VPD work hand-in-glove with VFD, calmly and expeditiously.What truly opened my eyes was the number of judgment calls I saw being made on the spot, under duress, when every moment counted. As a career business executive I’ve made tough decisions, but in the cool light of day, not on a frigid (12-degree), dark night.I saw human nature at work bringing out the best in VPD/VFD and the worst in some civilians. Some drivers refused to obey traffic rerouting. One complained about waiting too long for his car to be recovered from the Marriott garage. I saw another drive over a 3-inch fire hose, which is stupid and dangerous.1 a.m.: The fire is over but not the night. We’re back in the patrol car headed toward the village, where the bars are closing in 30 minutes. En route, a dispatcher alerts us to a fight at a club. Before we get to the fight (which is already being handled), we find two young men, dangerously intoxicated. One is sprawled at the bottom of a staircase, head first, so drunk he wobbles when he stands and keeps falling down. Since he has no one to come for him, he is placed in detox for his own protection, free to go the next day, no record, no bond, no fine.2 a.m.: Watching endless paperwork being completed, I’m growing cold and tired. Just then a call comes in that a car is driving against the traffic on I-70. I’m imagining what I would do tooling down the highway at 70 mph if I saw lights approaching me on my side of the median. And the beat goes on.What did I learn? It’s a tough job and it takes tough people to do it. But it also takes sensitivity to deal with calls involving spousal and child abuse. I learn that law enforcement is a calling; there are multi-generations of cops in one family. I learn about mind-numbing bureaucracy and paperwork. But the work goes on. And I’m grateful you cops out there are doing it.Paul KuzniarVail second homeowner


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