Wednesday, September 24, 2003
City Council President Kathy Connell issued a statement in support of the city's police department at Tuesday night's council meeting and stressed the city's emphasis on customer service.
"Unfortunately, the police department has a very dangerous and oftentimes unpleasant job. It is very easy for people to remember how they were treated and not how they acted," Connell said at the end of her comments. "We will continue to have an active dialogue and to ensure we offer the (highest) quality of police service."
Connell's comments at Tuesday night's council meeting were in response to concerns raised by dozens of residents during two recent council meetings.
Residents said law enforcement officers do not respect residents' constitutional rights, have an us-versus-them mentality and put juveniles who commit petty offenses in a legal system that is costly and difficult to leave. The group also called into question what they saw as overly aggressive drunken-driving policies.
No one who lodged the complaints -- including Gary Wall, a private investigator who was hired by residents to look into local law enforcement tactics -- was at Tuesday's meeting. That was a stark contrast to a Sept. 9 council meeting, when a discussion of police actions was on the agenda and more than 50 people crowded into Centennial Hall to take part.
During last week's meeting, the council met in a closed session with City Manager Paul Hughes and Public Safety Services Director J.D. Hays to talk about the concerns residents had raised. Despite broad public interest in the issue, Connell said the council decided it had the right to go into executive session because the concerns raised involved personnel issues.
"What we wanted to do, very carefully, was to understand the philosophy of the police department," Connell said.
At the beginning of her comments Tuesday, Connell said many of the comments made at previous council meetings were not directed at the Steamboat Springs Police Department but at the Routt County Sheriff's Office or Colorado State Patrol.
Connell said the council has no authority over those agencies but that it would talk to the Routt County commissioners and send information to the state.
The majority of Connell's comments, which she said were based on comments made at the executive session and discussions with other council members, focused on the city's commitment to customer service.
The council's code of ethics establishes customer service as a high priority and the recently adopted Strategic Implementation Plan emphasizes quality customer service, Connell said.
Connell went on to say all city employees are evaluated on their relations with the public and customer service, which receives more weight than any other category in the employee's evaluation.
The city needs to be aware of community concerns, Connell said, and of all the incidents discussed at the two public comment sessions, just one was brought to Hays and Hughes.
"The city departments, including the police department, welcome complaints as opportunities to correct problems and better serve your needs," she said.
Connell also talked about the so-called zero-tolerance policy the police department has in place in its efforts to curb underage drinking. Connell said the zero-tolerance policy did not originate with the police department, but with the community and from organizations such as Grand Futures, the Community Evaluation Team, Social Services, Mental Health, the Court Diversion Program and the Steamboat Springs School District.
The city also will not change its stance on drinking and driving, Connell said. Residents complained about the amount of times residents are pulled over for drunken-driving checks and how people feel forced into taking roadside sobriety tests.
"We cannot afford to be soft on drunken driving," Connell said. "Under my watch, we are not going soft."
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