Steamboat Springs Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall defended his suspension of the ElderWatch program in a meeting Monday with the Routt County Board of Commissioners.
Wall said he requested the meeting - and hoped to schedule regular ones - to improve communication between the department and the commissioners.
"I just want to make myself available if you have any questions about what's going on over there," Wall told the commissioners.
Most of the meeting was spent discussing Wall's decision to discontinue the department's ElderWatch program. Commissioners Nancy Stahoviak and Diane Mitsch Bush were concerned the elderly would be left vulnerable, as was a group of citizens who attended the meeting and confronted Wall afterward with questions about if and when the program would resume.
"My concern is elderly citizens, especially those who are not in some way connected with social services, can be victims very easily," Stahoviak said. "These are the people we all need to be cognizant of."
Wall said the program ended because the deputy who ran it, Elise Andres, resigned.
"I did not stop the program," Wall said. "The person who was doing the program decided to move on. This is an opportunity for us to take another look at this. I think this is an opportunity for us to have a fresh start."
Wall said the department is conducting an internal review of the ElderWatch program because of "issues" he was unwilling to specify in a public setting. He said the program lacked "accountability," citing for example that he had no way of knowing how much time Andres spent on the program.
Wall also said the department was not identifying anything criminal through the program and suggested volunteers, neighbors and family members may be better suited to provide the type of services ElderWatch was providing.
"I think it's important to have contact with elders," Wall said. "But for that to come out of the Sheriff's Department, I don't know if that's appropriate. It's an AARP program. To do more social things, I don't know if it's a sheriff's department thing."
Mitsch Bush said it might be possible that the department wasn't identifying anything criminal through the ElderWatch program because its presence was serving as a criminal deterrent.
Oak Creek resident Reta McNutt attended the meeting because she was concerned about ElderWatch and wants to see it continued. She said she was not encouraged by Wall's comments.
"It appears that the sheriff no longer wants to do any criminal prevention for children and older people," McNutt said, referring to the loss of the DARE drug prevention program for children in addition to ElderWatch.
If ElderWatch is not continued through the Sheriff's Department, Stahoviak said she hoped Wall would participate in discussions with other county agencies to establish a replacement program.
"It's your call," Stahoviak told Wall. "But in a rural community like this, we all need to have our eyes open. I think there would be a way that we could all work together."