A few good police

Oak Creek is looking for replacements

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When Oak Creek police Chief Guytano Farnan announced his resignation a week ago, it surprised town trustees and residents. Now, they are left with questions.

"It's just got my mind boggled, how to replace a chief or even a good cop anymore," Trustee Bill Paxton said.

David Bonfiglio said he was disappointed to learn about Farnan's resignation and questioned whether there are bigger concerns or complaints with the town or the police department that need to be addressed.

"I think, as a community, that's a question we all need to have -- why are we having this issue?" Bonfiglio said.

Since 1999, the town has had four chiefs, none of whom have stayed more than about 1 1/2 years, as well as several interim chiefs.

"If we're going to make a good decision on the next person, we need to know what happened," Bonfiglio said. He said he hoped the issue could be examined closely by a committee.

The Town Board has already, more or less, made that decision. On Thursday, trustees voted to make Linda Koile the head of the police department but haven't specified the duties of that department-head position versus the position of police chief. Koile will hire a police officer and a part-time code enforcement officer. All new hirings, including Koile's in her new position, are for a six-month trial period.

Koile worked as the town's code enforcement officer for 2 1/2 years, then entered the police academy in May 2003. She graduated in June 2004 and began working as a part-time police officer for Oak Creek that summer.

In the subsequent months, the previous police chief and a police officer resigned, leaving Koile as the town's only full-time police officer.

Reasons to leave

When considering why chiefs and officers have not stayed with the Oak Creek Police Department, the questions that arise include whether the right people were chosen in the first place or whether good people left because of poor working conditions.

"(The former employees) could probably answer that better than I can," Oak Creek Mayor Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman said.

At the Town Board meeting Thursday, Trustee Karen Halterman said the town has attracted two types of potential chiefs -- people from big cities who are close to retirement or people who don't have enough experience.

People apply who "think it's some dream to come to some small town, then they become dissatisfied," or who don't have enough experience for any chief position except in Oak Creek, she said.

Halterman said the town needs a new structure and supported making Koile head of the department and allowing her to hire another officer and someone to enforce codes part time.

Oak Creek resident Reta McNutt, a vocal critic of current town leaders, said she thinks problems may stem from the mayor and some trustees.

"I feel that the chief of police isn't allowed to do his job," McNutt said. "There is too much micromanaging from the mayor and certain members of the Town Board."

McNutt also said that at least four police officers are needed to provide adequate coverage and that having only two employees puts undue strain on the department.

Others disagreed with her link between resignations from police officials and the Town Board.

"I think the town, as far as it is, there's nothing wrong with it," Paxton said. "Ever since Reggie Mayes left, we've had nothing but problems with people coming and trying to be the chief."

The most recent chief

Chief Guytano Farnan was hired last fall through an extensive interview process, but ended up staying for only three months. He now is going through the hiring process for the Routt County Sheriff's Office.

The town has paid Farnan almost $15,000 in salary since Sept. 23, when he began training to get certification from the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, Rodeman has said. He received a portion of his working salary while in training.

The town also paid about $5,000 for Farnan's training, but according to an agreement, the town should get two-thirds of that back, or about $3,400, Rodeman said.

Rodeman said Farnan "wasn't a good fit" for the town. He was more than qualified for the job, she said, but she couldn't form an opinion of his work because he had not been with the town for that long.

Farnan said he had no comment about why he resigned. He did say he thought that asking a chief and one officer to provide coverage around the clock was a big strain.

He emphasized that he did not blame the town, as he realizes Oak Creek is a small town with a small budget, "but it's a tremendous amount of hours they're asking the officers to work."

Routt County Undersheriff Dan Taylor confirmed that Farnan has applied for a position with the Sheriff's Office and is in the testing process.

"We're looking at him, but it's a pretty long process," Taylor said.

Structuring coverage

The Town Board has budgeted $106,000 for the Police Department for this year.

Rodeman said that the police are very important to Oak Creek, but that the town would need five officers to provide true round-the-clock coverage. With two officers, days are split, and an officer can stay on call all day and through the night.

Yampa, which is smaller than Oak Creek, contracts with the Routt County Sheriff's Office for law enforcement service.

Rodeman said Oak Creek could consider a similar contract with the Sheriff's Office, though such an idea hasn't been discussed by the Town Board.

Among the potential drawbacks of contracting with the county for law enforcement coverage is that Oak Creek business owners like to have an officer in town and that having local law enforcement ensures quick response times, Rodeman said.

Routt County Sheriff John Warner said that taking over Oak Creek's police coverage could be a possibility, but "it would take some consideration."

There have been discussions about creating space in the new Stagecoach firehouse for the Sheriff's Office, giving deputies a place to file reports, Warner said. However, that idea is only in the discussion phase.

Rodeman said she clashed with the county about law enforcement early in her tenure as mayor, but she hopes that the Sheriff's Office and town have a good relationship now.

One conflict came in late 2002, while the town was between police chiefs, when the Sheriff's Office had an agreement to provide basic law enforcement services for the town. When the town disagreed with the bill for those services, the Sheriff's Office ultimately pulled out of the agreement, sending some dispatch calls to Rodeman's home, according to Steamboat Pilot & Today articles.

"(I) hope everything with the Sheriff's Department in the past is just that, in the past," she said.

Warner said his biggest frustration with the issues in late 2002 was that no one called to thank him or his deputies, he said. But, he said, he doesn't hold a grudge.

His office always will respond to calls in Oak Creek when needed. Law enforcement agencies always "look out for one another's backs," he said.

"I will not let an adversarial relationship develop with Oak Creek," Warner said. "I will continue to do what I can do to help them out."

When asked whether he would enter into a similar contract with Oak Creek again, he would not give a definitive answer, but said that he would have to re-evaluate the situation, taking into consideration staffing shortages in his department.

New head of department

Koile thought she would be working as a new officer under previous chief Tim Willert and previous officer Felipe Nardo.

She said she was devastated when Willert left, and even more so when Nardo resigned, leaving her on her own.

She has tried to make up for her lack of field experience by reading books and forming relationships with local deputies and officers who back her up and give her advice.

At Thursday's Town Board meeting, Rodeman said she was sorry Koile didn't have the proper training.

"It didn't kill me, it made me stronger," Koile replied.

Koile said she was confident in her ability to be head of the police department. She is committed to living in Oak Creek and to turning the department into one that people trust and believe in.

She might advertise for the officer opening and is considering one man who lives in Stagecoach and expressed interest in the job. He recently graduated from a police academy.

Koile raised concerns about her own liability and said she wanted to see in writing that the town's insurance protected her while she was working.

Training is important, Warner said. The Sheriff's Office and the Steamboat Springs Police Department, as well as most other law enforcement agencies, require new hires to train under a current deputy or officer for a few months.

Lawsuits filed against law enforcement agencies often relate to negligence in hiring, training and retention, Warner said.

Negligence in hiring means an agency hires someone without appropriate background checks or other work; negligence in training means an officer is put in a situation for which he or she is not trained; and negligence in retention means the head of the agency does not follow up on complaints about workers.

Rodeman said that if the town opens its eyes and sees what it has, which is Linda Koile, it will see that the Police Department is in the best position its been in for a long time.

"Linda, we know, loves the town and is going to stick with us," Rodeman said. "We'd be right back to the no police force if we didn't have her."

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