Police department to respond to residents' criticism at meeting

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Steamboat Springs Director of Public Safety Services J.D. Hays will respond tonight to complaints by a group of residents about law enforcement tactics and conduct.

The City Council scheduled Hays' response after private investigator Gary Wall and a group of residents appeared before the council last month to voice concerns about the police department, sheriff's office and Colorado Highway Patrol.

Wall said officers do not always respect residents' constitutional rights, had an "us versus them" mentality and harassed juveniles unnecessarily.

The discussion is at 7 p.m. during the City Council's public comment section.

Hays said he has asked Wall to cite specific examples but he has not received any.

This spring, Wall ran ads in the Steamboat Pilot & Today asking residents who felt they had been mistreated by local law enforcement to contact him. Hays and Routt County Sheriff John Warner ran counter ads asking anyone with complaints to contact them directly. Since then, Hays said he has received very few phone calls.

Hays, the sheriff's office and the state patrol said their employees are trained to treat residents with respect. Each agency has a policy for lodging complaints. All three defended their aggressive DUI enforcement, one of the primary complaints.

Wall, who will not give numbers on how many people he represents or specific cases, said law enforcement is missing the bigger picture of residents' concerns.

"We are not complaining that the law is being enforced," he said. "It is about how these guys treat people."

Juveniles should not be put into the legal system for getting caught with a beer, Wall said. He believes residents are being intimidated into taking roadside sobriety tests.

Wall said the Oak Creek Police Department is a model for other agencies to follow. Wall, who the Oak Creek Town Board hired to investigate potential candidates for police chief and officer, said the force went from officers who did not gel with the community to police officers who are a positive presence in the community.

Wall is prepared to give a presentation at tonight's meeting and will have testimonies from other residents.

Sheriff John Warner said the sheriff's office will not attend the council's public hearing.

Incidents involving the sheriff's office were mentioned at the Aug. 19 council meeting, and Wall said those who come before the council tonight could bring up incidents related to the sheriff's office.

But Warner said they have not been invited to the meeting, nor has the sheriff's office had contact with Wall about the complaints. Warner said the Routt County commissioners have not received complaints from Wall.

Warner said no one has come to the sheriff's office with complaints.

Wall, a former police chief, understands policies for complaints, Warner said, and should have discussed the complaints first with Hays and with him before taking his case to the City Council. "It is not fair to me or J.D.," Warner said.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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