The Routt County Board of Commissioners is willing to talk to Oak Creek about its policing issues, but the best solution would be the creation of a new town police force, Commissioner Doug Monger said Tuesday night.
Representatives from the Routt County Sheriff's Office, along with the commissioners, met with Oak Creek residents and officials during a commissioners chat session Tuesday night, where residents asked questions about such topics as 4-H and junkyards. The most pressing item, however, was how to get a police presence back in the town.
The Sheriff's Office has been the only agency to respond to police calls in Oak Creek since the town's previous officers quit or were taken off duty late last year. Sheriff's Office deputies are responding to reports of substantial crimes, but they have stopped responding to code violations, dog violations and other smaller infractions. Not all residents were happy with the change, Trustee Dave Ege said. He said Colorado statutes do not require a town to provide its own police force and that because Oak Creek residents pay taxes, they should receive coverage from the county law enforcement.
Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said the statutes were unclear at best, because while they do not mandate that towns provide their own law enforcement, they also state that towns can contract for sheriff's office coverage, implying that county law enforcement does not necessarily have to cover incorporated towns without compensation.
"Providing law enforcement to municipalities is more than a sheriff's department typically does," she said. "We need to hear from a town board and get to the bottom of what you want from a sheriff's department. ... We don't seem to be able to get over this hump of determining what you really want."
Stahoviak said one of the major reasons for towns to incorporate is for the municipality to provide a higher level of police protection.
Trustee David Fisher said he agreed with Ege that the town does not have to provide a police department, but based on community reaction during a focus group this spring, he thinks residents would prefer a hometown force.
"Essentially what I have gotten back from the police focus group is the community wants us to have our own police force, and our task as trustees is to find a way to make that happen," Fisher said.
Resident Jennifer Sliney said a town police force also would handle law enforcement problems above what the sheriff could handle with the amount of staffing available - typically two deputies and a supervisor at any time.
"The sheriff's department is in no position to provide public services to the community of Oak Creek on the level we need," she said. "I think the wake-up call is really for the people of Oak Creek. We had a police department and there were problems, certainly : but we have a serious problem in this community that unfortunately requires police."
The town contracted with the county to provide law enforcement in 2002, but that didn't work out well, Monger said.
"I would really hope that Oak Creek would move toward doing its own police department," he said, because the bill for services in the 2002 agreement ended up being more than the town wanted to pay.
"This board has not said we're not interested in having the discussion (of contracting for service again). We're interested in having the discussion. The problem is that with that, we need to have it very clear what those levels of service will be and how it's above what we're providing now," he said.
Ege and Fisher, along with other residents who attended the chat session, thanked the deputies for responding to calls, and Undersheriff Dave Bustos said deputies will continue to respond to emergency calls and calls to keep the peace in Oak Creek.
No action was taken during the chat session.