Eagle County sheriff: Take a step inside the Major Crimes Unit | VailDaily.com

Eagle County sheriff: Take a step inside the Major Crimes Unit

James van Beek

What do the world’s best-selling novels, blockbuster movies, award-winning television shows and popular video games have in common? Mysteries to be solved and detectives taking us on their complex journeys of discovery and capture of the bad guys.

When clues are few but hope is high, we rely on the skills and dedication of those who are on-call 24/7. While living the dream in our self-proclaimed bubble, we barely notice the strength behind that sense of security.

Yes, even in Eagle County, we have murders, assaults, child abuse, arson, armed robberies and domestic violence, and unlike fictional adventures, these involve real people, whose lives may be forever altered. Step in the Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit.

When a crime occurs, the patrol officers are first on the scene. Then, depending upon the event, the Major Crimes Unit or first responders will be called. Since patrol is tasked with protection and first responders with saving lives, someone must specialize in investigating the situation, determining the crime and securing the evidence.

To become a detective, there is a unique set of skills required, involving an additional 240 hours of intense training. Only five officers are selected. They are chosen for their experience, passion, attention to detail, extreme drive, maturity, dedication to community and victim sympathy.

These are professionals who are motivated by the ideals of good winning over bad, and their reward is in catching and convicting those who show little regard toward others and are willing to cause extreme harm, with little remorse.

Like in the movies, detectives collect evidence, which is not as easy as it may sound. Some things are obvious; others require almost a sixth sense to determine. A call at 2 a.m. regarding a child drowning requires extreme sensitivity toward grieving parents, yet they must consider what a child is doing in the water at that hour.

A call from a distraught senior citizen whose home was broken into while she showered and was then held at gunpoint naturally causes freight but also increased vulnerability due to her age. How do we reassure her? We must investigate, locate and prosecute the criminals, assuring they won’t return to harm her or anyone else.

What happens when a teenager sneaks out, late at night, to meet a stranger she met online and then gets drugged and raped? How can we prove it, and where do we begin searching? Did he disappear into the night on Interstate 70?

Sometimes, the descriptions are not always accurate because, under the stress of the moment, the attention is on survival and escape, not necessarily on the perpetrator, so evidence becomes even more critical. What about a renter who is molesting the homeowner’s child? How do we prove the attack? How do we provide assurances to a family whose child’s life will always be impacted? Unlike the movies, solving crime takes months, not hours, and even if we catch the criminals, there are not always happy endings.

Thankfully, these occurrences are not frequent in Eagle County. The Major Crimes Unit is able to rely on the Colorado Bureau of Investigations to analyze forensics such as DNA, gunshot residue, bodily fluids, ballistics and related lab evidence. The detectives secure the crime scene and have a relatively short window of time to gather anything that could possibly be related to the crime, while it is still viable, yet they must remain sensitive to the needs of the victims, releasing their property and home as quickly as possible to allow the beginnings of recovery.

We are grateful to the detectives of Eagle County for their unwavering dedication and exceptional standards that help to make Eagle County a place where communities gather in celebration of this incredible place we call home.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.

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