Van Beek says he offers community connections |

Van Beek says he offers community connections

Candidates Debate

Candidates James van Beek and Daric Harvey will debate live at 7 p.m. tonight on KZYR, 97.7. The debates will be rebroadcast on ECO TV channel 18

EAGLE COUNTY — If police and law enforcement are disconnected from the community, they’re not really serving the community, said James van Beek, candidate for Eagle County Sheriff.

His philosophy, he said, is communicating with people, and his top priority is protecting people’s rights. Everything about the Sheriff’s Office will be encompassed in community policing.

That means getting deputies out of their cars and into the community.

He said as he campaigns, he hears people saying they see deputies but don’t really know them and that they seem disengaged. The Sheriff’s Office has a great staff, and his biggest focus would be to become more transparent and reach out to the community.

“When they have to arrest someone and you have that trust and relationship, it’s going to go much better. They’ll be helping you.”
James van Beek

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“It would mean taking care of problems before they escalate. That way, when they’re called in as part of an enforcement role, it might not be so adversarial. You need to have that level of trust,” van Beek said.

International experience

Van Beek was born and raised in Colorado, a first generation American and son of Dutch immigrants in a family of six kids. His parents came to the U.S. in 1957. He joined the Army right after high school graduation.

He got out of the Army in 1989 and came to Eagle County, where then-sheriff A.J. Johnson hired and mentored him. He had 10 consecutive years with the Sheriff’s Office, worked the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships, then headed security on Vail Mountain.

“I have ties all over the community. I’ve patrolled every nook and cranny of this county, and I know the people,” van Beek said.

Under a U.S. State Department contract with the U.N., he went to war-torn Kosovo and Afghanistan to build civilian police forces to help keep peace when U.N. forces left.

He said he has worked in high threat environments and sat at tables with the Taliban and al-Qaida.

“In Kosovo and Afghanistan, I had command positions dealing with diverse groups, community elders and people from all walks of life,” he said. “We had to learn how different people perceive things. Even police officers from different areas of the U.S. see things differently. It taught me to appreciate other points of view and perspectives.”

After Kosovo, he spent four and a half years in Afghanistan. During his time off, he’d fly home and volunteer as a patroller with the Sheriff’s Office, he said.

“I used it as an opportunity to expand my experience, my vision and understanding. I can bring that back here, and it can be used for our community,” he said.

At the top of his list of lessons is protecting and respecting peoples’ rights, no matter who they are.

“I’ve watched what happened when rights are taken away and when there is no rule of law or accountability, no checks and no balances,” van Beek said. “Spend a little time in places like that and it will give an appreciation for how good we have it here.”

Sometimes, though, people run afoul of the law and need to be arrested, cited and go to jail. But if there is trust and a relationship, it will be easier for everyone.

“When they have to arrest someone and you have that trust and relationship, it’s going to go much better. They’ll be helping you,” he said.

Some rights are more hot button than others. Van Beek said he would have joined the lawsuit against state lawmakers limiting gun rights, universal background checks and limiting mag capacity, pointing out that Sheriff Joe Hoy did not.

“I heard what he had to say and why, and I disagreed with him on that,” van Beek said. “Chicago and Washington, D.C., have the most restrictive gun laws in the country but have the highest shooting and murder rates in the country. We need to be concentrating on education and mental health issues.”

Outstanding staff

He said his mentor, A.J. Johnson, gave deputies a system and told them to work within that system. Van Beek said the Sheriff’s Office has an outstanding staff and that he helped hire some of them. He said he will make some changes, but they’ll come slowly.

“My objective is not to go in there and clean house. I want to sit down with every employee and talk about my philosophy,” he said. “I don’t want a bunch of sycophants. Can they work under my philosophy? I think most of them can. If there are a few who can’t … well.”

He said most the jobs he has held throughout his life, including military service and being a cop for many years, were in the service of America and its people.

“I truly believe we need a change. I’ve walked and talked and worked side by side with a lot of people who feel the same way,” he said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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