Oak Creek Police officers are important to the residents of Oak Creek.
Without police officers, some residents say they would worry more about their children, sleep less easily at night and feel vulnerable to more crimes. But supporting the town's three full-time police officers comes with a price that other residents say is too high.
Whether the benefits the officers provide outweigh the costs of supporting them was the focus of the Oak Creek Town Board meeting Thursday night.
After lengthy discussion, the board decided to set up a committee that would explore whether residents want to restructure the town's Police Department.
Most residents who spoke at the meeting expressed ardent support for the current police officers. But others said the cost of the Police Department, which takes up about 40 percent of the town's general funds budget, is unnecessary.
In fact, Oak Creek has the highest number of police officers per capita of all towns in Colorado, board member David Stordal said.
"When you look at the budget, we spend $171,000 for the police force, and that seems excessive," Stordal said. "In my opinion, (the Police Department) would be a good place to find some money."
This money, Stordal said, could be used for a variety of other important town needs.
But other residents said the investment in the Police Department is a good one.
"I can understand about the town wanting to save money, but what I don't understand is how can you put a price range on our safety and our kids' safety?" asked Rebecca Wisecup, an Oak Creek resident.
Oak Creek Police Chief Tom Ling, whom the board, during the meeting, voted to keep as chief but without a contract, said that the safety of Oak Creek residents would be compromised if the town's police force was cut from three officers to one.
"I think that like any other profession, if you cut staff, you're going to cut service," Ling said.
Downsizing the town's current Police Department may not compromise the town's safety, said Mayor Cargo Rodeman, who was elected this past April and is known for having a lengthy police record.
"I've looked at all the studies, not to mention I've lived here 30 years. I've seen everything from no cops to five or six," Rodeman said in a conversation before the meeting began. "I think (having three officers) is unnecessary, and the money could be budgeted for something that's more needed."
During the meeting, Rodeman emphasized that talking about restructuring Oak Creek's Police Department did not simply mean cutting its size. Changes such as having sheriff rule, or having no Police Department or even having a larger Police Department could all come out of restructuring discussions, Rodeman said.
A study of actions of Oak Creek police officers showed that during a five-month period, the three officers issued a total of 18 tickets and made seven arrests. That study implied there isn't enough work to keep three officers busy.
But many residents said the study neglected the less tangible benefits the police officers bring, such as the fact that simply having police officers may deter crimes that would otherwise be common.
"Public health and safety are vital parts of any community, large or small. Let's not push our public safety services out of reach," said Oak Creek businessman and ambulance commander Bill Norris, who is also a Planning Commissioner for Routt County. "I'm in support of the Police Department. A lot of the things that have been established we don't want to see torn apart."
Whether the residents agreed the Oak Creek Police Department should be changed, everyone at the meeting seemed to support forming a committee to consider restructuring the department.
During the meeting, board members decided such a committee should be comprised of a variety of residents, such as police officers, business people, board members and youths. Residents who are interested in serving on the committee will submit letters of interest to the Town Board before June 13, and then committee members will be chosen from the pool of applicants.
"If we do the committee, which would be a very good idea, I believe the committee will take everything into consideration," Rodeman said.