Steamboat Springs There were many things Republican sheriff candidates Ray Birch and Garrett Wiggins butted heads on during a forum Wednesday night, but they agreed that uniting Routt County residents behind the Sheriff's Office is important.
"Community-oriented policing is something we have to get established in this community," Wiggins said. "As a rural community, we have to all help each other and watch out for each other. Without everyone's support and cooperation, it's going to seem like we're fighting a losing battle."
Wednesday's forum, which was sponsored by the Routt County Republican Party and moderated by longtime resident Joe Pete Lorusso, was the last forum of four that were held to give Routt County residents an opportunity to meet and question the Republican sheriff candidates before the Aug. 8 primary election. Whichever candidate wins the primary election will face Democrat Gary Wall in the November general election.
During the two-hour forum, residents bombarded Wiggins and Birch with questions about their education and training and their thoughts on concealed weapons permits.
Some of the most important topics covered included the candidates' mutual desire to help Routt County grow and to allow the Sheriff's Office to better serve the community.
Birch said during his time as a sergeant with the sheriff's office, he has challenged himself to drive down Routt County roads he is not familiar with, and he encourages the deputies he supervises to do the same.
"I have always encouraged my guys to get off (U.S. Highway) 40 because it's easy to set up traffic, set up a radar and write speeding tickets," he said. "What isn't easy is getting out to Stagecoach, getting to Clark and getting out to Hayden all the time. You can ask them ... they'll tell you I'm constantly pushing them out."
Wiggins said those tough-to-reach areas are exactly the places he wants to be as a rural community officer.
"There are people out there that haven't seen a patrol car on their road in months," Wiggins said. "I think we need to be out there more, and not hang around cities like Steamboat Springs that have their own law enforcement agencies."
Wiggins also said that supporting the other law enforcement agencies in the county, especially the smaller departments, is crucial, and his relationship with the other agencies is excellent.
"I think over the years there have been some separations between some of the agencies in the county and the Sheriff's Office," he said. "Because of the strong relationships I have with the Steamboat Springs Police Department and others, I can begin to mend those relationships."
Birch, a former chief investigator for the 14th Judicial District, said it was his job to have good working relationships with the various law enforcement agencies in the county, and that he has maintained those relationships, which will benefit his administration if he is elected.
"In a rural area like this it is fundamental we have other agencies to call on both in and outside of Routt County," Birch said. "We can't patrol 2,400 square miles. We all wear the same uniform. We all wear the same shield. If they need something, we come running. If we need something, they come running."
Before ending the forum, Birch took Wiggins' hand and congratulated him and his chosen undersheriff, sheriff's investigator Rachelle Redmond, for running.
"I congratulate for you jumping into the fire to make a difference in our county," Birch said. "We're all cops. We're all trying to make a difference. All any one of us wants it's what's best for the county we love."
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