Oak Creek When asked how many bosses she has had at the Oak Creek Police Department, Eileen Rossi starts counting on her fingers, then just gives up and says "whoever's been here in the last 10 years."
The department has had plenty of ups and downs, from staffing changes to quarrels with town officials and differences of opinion with residents about how to police Oak Creek.
Being an officer during times of turmoil requires you to have a thick skin and keep your cool, Rossi said.
"You become a uniform and not a person. You have to realize people don't always hear both sides of the story and just need to vent," Rossi said. "You just have to focus on the job at hand and not getting involved in the drama.
"I'm luckier than the others because I've been here longer, and people know me," she continued.
The fact that Rossi is such a "people person" certainly doesn't hurt her any, Police Commissioner Gerry Greenwood said.
"People do things because Eileen asks them to," Greenwood said.
Rossi spends her winters in Arizona, but came back to Routt County last week for municipal court appearances in Oak Creek. On Wednesday, the day after her plane came in, Rossi attended an 800 MHz radio training course and emerged from it to find 18 voicemails waiting on her cell phone.
"I guess a lot of people have seen me around town," Rossi said.
Rossi's law enforcement career began about 30 years ago in Georgia. While an undergraduate at Georgia State University studying pre-law and pre-med, Rossi did an internship with a local police department and was hooked from her first ride-along.
"Every day was different, so I thought this could be a fun way to work for a while and then go to (medical) school," Rossi said.
Rossi decided she preferred being on patrol to being a physician, and joined the Routt County Sheriff's Office shortly after moving to Steamboat Springs in 1985. She made the move to be closer to her sister.
"I just couldn't bear not to be an aunt to my little nephew," she said.
Seeing the lights come on
She stayed at the Sheriff's Office until the late 1990s, working under sheriffs Tim Walsh, John Warner and Ed Burch. After marrying her husband, Steve - who she met playing bingo at the old VFW post in Oak Creek - Rossi wanted to leave full-time work and took a part-time position as a deputy coroner.
"I was looking forward to just being a housewife," Rossi said. "The job can easily consume you. Newly married, the job was really cutting into the time I needed to build my relationship."
In 2001, she briefly agreed to be Oak Creek's interim police chief after the departure of Dan Kelliher. Rossi ultimately resigned from that post but has kept coming back to Oak Creek Police Department in various capacities, ever since.
"It was going to be a three-week thing," Rossi said. "Then, I stayed on as a reserve officer, through several different chiefs, and helped train various officers as they came and left."
Most recently, she's worked as a part-time officer for Oak Creek during the summers, which she spends in Routt County. She's also an emergency medical technician with the Yampa Fire Protection District.
After former Chief Russ Caterinicchio, Sgt. Erik Foster and code enforcement officer Tony VanDeventer resigned in September, Rossi all but ran the department for the next month, tying up loose ends.
"There've been many offers to be full time or be chief," Rossi said. But she hasn't budged, preferring to "help" as she frequently calls it, about 20 hours a week, and spend the rest of her time with her husband and extended family.
For Mayor J. Elliott, "offers" would be an understatement.
"I've begged and pleaded," he said at Thursday's Oak Creek Town Board meeting. Though Rossi hasn't put on a badge and gun since October, during Thursday's meeting, she took it upon herself to pull two disgruntled citizens into the police offices to help them sort out their differences.
"There's more mediating in this job than anything else," Rossi said, calling it one of her favorite parts of being a police officer. You also get to see "the lights come on" when people see the consequences of their actions and decide to change. And you get to watch all the school kids grow up, Rossi said.
But there's the bad, too. Namely "repeat offenders who just don't get it" and "people who don't want to take responsibility," she said.
"Overall, it's a great group of people that live here (in Oak Creek). There's just a small group of people that don't take civic pride and feel they don't have to obey the laws," Rossi said. "I deal with the same families and the same people over and over again."
While in Arizona this winter, hiking and riding ATVs with her husband, Rossi is participating in the town's police focus group via phone. The group is tasked with gathering citizen input and advising the Oak Creek Town Board on where to go next with law enforcement. She hasn't ruled out returning to the Oak Creek Police Department, if and when there is one - part time, of course.