Van Beek: Anatomy of an arrest — patrol |

Van Beek: Anatomy of an arrest — patrol

Unless they work in law enforcement, have been a victim, or have an arrest record, most people are unfamiliar with what happens from arrest to courtroom. This is the third column of a three-part series. The first focused on victim services, the second was on detention, and this one is on patrol.

The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, police departments and law enforcement agencies within Eagle County all work on creating highly efficient, innovative, yet compassionate programs between arrest and verdict. We realize that while certain legal procedures must be followed, we also recognize that we are handling sensitive and generally uncommon situations for the people involved. We begin with a base of treating everyone with respect and dignity. 


The patrol division is involved in both traffic stops and dispatch calls, as well as observation via neighborhood patrol. Of the calls received, the non-emergency are usually low-threat issues and are triaged between the Sheriff’s Office and the Dispatch Center, for the most efficient response. Emergency 911 calls begin at dispatch, which connects with all first responder services and generally involve more elevated threats, where people feel endangered with a high degree of urgency.

With a 911 call, information and knowledge of prior incidents are shared, to ascertain the best tactics and approach for a successful outcome. If the emergency involves existing or potential violence, we arrange for two or more officers to be present to handle the complexities of the situation. We scale up or down according to risk.

Calls regarding break-ins, sexual assault, or domestic violence can quickly escalate to life-threatening incidents, as fear and the intensity of emotions are heightened, sometimes sparking irrational and unpredictable behavior. We must exercise the most extreme caution as we attempt to de-escalate the situation and re-establish a safe environment. 

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Maintaining the safety of everyone involved is our top priority. We are acutely aware of the volatile sensitivity of emotionally-charged situations and how quickly they can escalate. We also recognize that we are entering a residence or business and are respectful of the personal space and challenge to freedom involved in our arrival. It is a delicate balance.   

Vehicle stops present more of an element of surprise. In Eagle County, they are generally routine — a taillight out, expired tags, or speeding offense, which can present a danger to the driver or others. However, being located just off I-70, traffic stops engage more than just our neighbors and can become quite dangerous. Interstate criminals transporting illegal goods or wanted for violent crimes do not respond well to police encounters. Each car approach is a venture into a treacherous unknown that can become fatal.

Since most stops are generally routine, we lean toward giving warnings rather than citations, unless it is an egregious offense. Ten miles per hour over the speed limit is not the same as 40 mph over, but 10 mph over in a school zone is serious. Judgment is essential in determining procedure. The Sheriff’s Office tends to average about 10 warnings for every citation. We aim for the lowest charge possible unless records indicate they are a repeat offender. 

If the offense requires leaving the vehicle, whether it is towed or temporarily parked alongside the roadway, depends on several factors. Under certain conditions, we may allow the driver to call someone to pick up the car or drive them home. If the car is evidence or we are awaiting a search warrant, then we secure and impound the vehicle to one of our lots to ensure no evidence tampering. 

If an arrest must be made, the driver’s response influences subsequent actions. If there is a warrant, what is it for? Failure to appear on a traffic violation is vastly different from a felony assault. Our response is determined by numerous factors but always defaults to safety with compassion. 

If an arrest is made with children at the scene, we focus on protecting the children from being further traumatized. When possible, rather than immediately calling child protective services, we will allow the driver to call someone to pick up the child, and either take them to the safety of our offices or have victim services stay with the children until an adult arrives. 

Processing: Upon arrest, we immediately upload to the computer the offender’s information, an in-depth narrative of what occurred, a detailed description, if force was required, the body cam video, a copy of the summons, search warrants, automobile inventory and evidence acquired. 

Top of mind is that most people we encounter are also our neighbors and friends, and we strive to make every encounter a positive one, as we are here to protect and serve. 

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at

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