Oak Creek's community police questionnaire results
Do you feel Oak Creek needs its own police force?
Yes 49% No 51%
Do you feel Oak Creek should have 24-hour-a-day/7-day-a-week coverage?
Yes 26% No 74%
Are the current law enforcement services (emergency calls only) provided by the Sheriff's Office satisfactory?
Yes 63% No 37%
Do you feel code enforcement is an important need in Oak Creek?
Yes 72% No 28%
Would you be willing to pay additional property tax/rent to get better policing?
Yes 30% No 70%
Do you feel Oak Creek should contract with the Routt County Sheriff's Office for additional law enforcement if possible and economically feasible?
Yes 66% No 34%
Would you like to see a citizens review board set up to be a bridge between the community, the police force and the Town Board?
Yes 52% No 48 %
Opinion in Oak Creek is split nearly 50/50 on whether the town needs its own police department, according to the results of a survey conducted earlier this month.
"It's very close as to whether people think we do or do not need a police department; however, there's a wide majority that thinks we definitely need some kind of code enforcement," Police Commissioner Dave Ege said.
Nearly three-quarters of the 94 survey respondents said code enforcement was an important need in Oak Creek. Code enforcement includes areas such as parking, leash law and the town's nuisance ordinance.
The survey results enumerate the differences of opinion displayed during discussions about Oak Creek's past and future law enforcement during the past year. Three of the department's four employees quit in September, and the Oak Creek Police Department went out of service in mid-October, after its remaining seasonal officer left Routt County.
"There were honestly quite a few people who said we want a police department that is not like the last one: to serve and protect, not intimidate and belittle," Ege said. "We had two or three who said we chased the best police department we ever had out of town.
"We're not going to make everyone happy, we know that. I'm hoping these forums give us a real good idea of which way people want us to go," Ege continued.
In December, the Town Board appointed a citizen police focus group to gather input about what residents want from a law enforcement presence in town, if any. That group intends to use the survey results to help guide discussion at its first public forum at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the South Routt School District offices in Oak Creek.
The town currently relies on the Routt County Sheriff's Office to handle emergency calls but would have to forge a contract with the Sheriff's Office for long-term services at a still undefined cost. An in-between idea that has been floated has been contracting with the Sheriff's Office but having at least a code enforcement officer employed by Oak Creek.
The police focus group has examined what the legalities of such a scenario would look like, Ege said. Some other small towns operate code enforcement through their public works department, he said.
No matter what the Town Board ultimately decides, any law enforcement scenario for the town has to fit into Oak Creek's $120,000 police budget.
"We want to do what the people want, as long as we can afford it," Ege said. "We can't have five full-time police officers like Hayden, because we don't have that airport. : Our budget is terribly limited."
Survey respondents came back with a "resounding no" when asked whether they would be willing to increase property taxes to pay for a police department, Ege said. Only 30 percent said they would be willing to do so.
David Bonfiglio, a member of the police focus group, said it was disappointing that only 94 surveys were returned. Ege said he had hoped for higher turnout but was ultimately pleased given the town's usually low response rate for such surveys.
"As big an issue as (policing) was only a few months ago, I thought we'd just see huge numbers of people respond. Everyone was complaining and talking about it - why wouldn't they now be part of the process from where we go forward?"
Bonfiglio also said it was his "gut feeling" that people most motivated to return the survey are those who have strong feelings one way or another as to whether Oak Creek needs a local police department and that everyone in the middle may be underrepresented.
"I think had we gotten 300 or 400 surveys in, we might have gotten a more clear picture one way or another, but we might not have. I don't know," he said.
Additional surveys still are trickling in, and Bonfiglio pointed out that residents who have not yet responded still are welcome to fill one out and take it to Oak Creek Town Hall.
"We really need huge numbers in order to feel like we're really doing what the town wants," Bonfiglio said. "That's what I've promised to all the people that complained to me, is that we would do this as a community - figure out where we go from here and make sure we do this right, whatever 'it' is."
The focus group will hold a second public forum in two or three weeks before giving its recommendations to the Oak Creek Town Board. In January, the group gave itself a self-imposed deadline of April 1 to present its findings and come up with a town-specific job description if it recommends hiring any new officers.
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