The Oak Creek Town Board needs a thorough re-evaluation of how it provides law enforcement to its community.
We think such a re-evaluation should occur before the town commits to Linda Koile as its police chief.
The Town Board named Koile the leader of the police department Thursday. Koile was appointed to replace Chief Guytano Farnan, who resigned after just three months on the job.
Oak Creek Mayor Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman said the town believes in Koile because she is committed to the community and has worked hard for the town, first as a code enforcement officer and later as a police officer.
Rodeman said the town already has hired Richard Wood, a former lieutenant with the Routt County Sheriff's Office, as a part-time officer. The town plans to hire a full-time police officer and a code enforcement officer to assist Koile and then evaluate the department in six months. If all goes well, Koile could be the town's new chief.
"Linda, we know, loves the town and is going to stick with us," Rodeman said.
We don't doubt Koile's commitment, and we wish her nothing but the best. But we have to wonder whether the town acted too quickly in appointing her.
Koile finished the police academy only last summer and has not finished all of her training. There is the chance that running the department, which has proven to be too much for officers with far more experience, could overwhelm Koile, and Oak Creek will be back to where it started. Worse, Koile's lack of experience could put her at risk on the job.
Unfortunately, the Town Board's track record on police chiefs hasn't been good since Chief Reggie Mayes, who served the town for 17 years, left the department in 1999. The town has gone through five full-time chiefs, two interim chiefs and a half-dozen officers in the six years since.
In November 2002, the board offered the chief's job to a man from Alaska and then had to rescind the offer a month later when the man could not pass a background check. Before that, the town appointed an interim chief it had to terminate later when the man could not pass a test required for certification in Colorado.
Farnan was supposed to be the answer. He had an extensive police background with the Norfolk Police Department in Virginia. The town agreed to pay for his training last fall to become certified in Colorado and on Dec. 10, he officially started as chief.
Farnan wouldn't talk about the reasons for his abrupt departure, though he did suggest the job was too much for just two officers. Other personnel have offered similar complaints.
We don't think that Oak Creek, which has a limited budget of about $106,000 for its police department, should be hiring more officers. But we wonder whether that money wouldn't be better spent contracting with the Routt County Sheriff's Office for some or all of the town's law enforcement coverage. Perhaps the Routt County Board of Commissioners should have a greater role in helping to fund such coverage, not only in Oak Creek but also in all of South Routt County.
The pattern of departures from the Oak Creek Police Department indicates that the problem may not be the personnel but the structure. Before the Town Board commits to trying the same process that hasn't worked for most of the past six years, it should look to see whether there is a better way.