Hayden The Hayden residents who showed up at Town Hall on Tuesday night didn't seem too eager to mingle with the police.
Before the meeting between law enforcement and the public, the two groups kept mostly to opposite sides of the room. The Hayden residents aimed to air their issues with the Police Department, and the town and the police aimed to explain their point of view.
Although the rules set by town officials banned discussion of specific cases, residents' complaints seemed to center on the treatment of two men who pleaded guilty to setting off about a dozen homemade acid bombs around town in August.
After thanking Police Chief Ray Birch and the force, former Town Board Member Tim Frentress said, "I do feel that there have been instances when the Police Department has gotten carried away in charging young people with felonies."
Isaac Haskins and Dusty Zabel pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor. Haskins also pleaded guilty to possession of an explosive or incendiary device, a felony. That felony charge could be dismissed if he successfully completes probation. Zabel's misdemeanor charge also could be dismissed.
The town invited Routt County Deputy District Attorney Ed Veronda to the meeting. Veronda explained that the district attorney's office, not police, typically decides what charges to bring in a case.
Birch didn't say a great deal, emphasizing that his officers worked hard and tried to make the right choices on the job. The chief, a former Marine and Los Angeles homicide detective, bore much of the criticism. Some residents were unhappy with his demeanor, which they said could seem unfriendly.
One of Birch's officers, Sgt. Gordon Booco, defended the chief's leadership.
"I love this town. I'm proud of this town," said Booco, who said he has lived in Hayden all his life. "But let's face it, guys, Hayden has changed so rapidly that we at the Police Department are having a hard time keeping up with it. : (Birch and Town Manager Russ Martin) are the kind of people who can bring us into the modern world."
But some residents said they weren't ready to relinquish that small-town feel.
"I understand that we have more crime," said resident Alice Carroll, who owns a beauty shop. "But there's still an element of hometownishness that people want."
Town officials set up the meeting as a workshop, placing chairs around tables in the center of the room. As participants raised issues, Martin wrote them on a white board on the wall.
Carroll suggested adding a police commissioner to serve as a liaison between the public and police. Officials said the Town Board should serve that purpose.
Martin said the town has a complaint process for residents, and Birch said the Police Department also has a system for complaints.
"I'd be glad to show and break down that policy to anyone who wants to come in and hear it," Birch said.
Martin said he would collaborate with the next board, which will start work in April, to address the complaint and response process. He urged the community to stay involved.
Martin also said he has gotten positive feedback about Hayden police.
"We have constant conversation about how to do the right thing," Martin said.