Steamboat Springs Ray Birch said his decision to leave the Hayden Police Department was a difficult one.
Birch, who became Hayden’s police chief in December 2006, has accepted the position of Routt County undersheriff. Birch said the department has accomplished a lot during his tenure, including the completion of a new police station. He wants to make sure things keep moving forward.
“I love this town, and I love this community,” he said. “This might sound a little corny, but I think of it more as them not losing a chief but gaining an undersheriff. I live here. I’ll be here every day. I made it clear to the staff that we’ll keep in motion what we’ve started here.”
Routt County Sheriff-elect Garrett Wiggins said Birch has been one of his top candidates, citing Birch’s more than three decades in law enforcement and service in the armed forces. Wiggins also highlighted Birch’s administration experience as Hayden’s police chief and familiarity with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office as a former patrol sergeant.
“I just think he’s got the education, qualifications and training to do a good job,” Wiggins said. “He’s got true ties to our community, as well.”
Birch, 53, joined the U.S. Air Force after high school in Los Angeles County and served as a military police officer. After his four-year tour, Birch joined the Pomona Police Department in L.A. County, Calif., where he spent 17 years as a patrol officer and detective. During that time, he served four years as a member of the U.S. Marines Corps Reserves.
After moving to Colorado, Birch spent two years with the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office as a detective and patrol sergeant. After a year in Oklahoma, he and his family moved to Hayden in 2000. Birch joined the Air Force Reserves after 9/11 and has served three tours overseas.
Birch was the chief investigator for the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office until 2005 when he joined the Routt County Sheriff’s Office as a patrol sergeant. He ran unsuccessfully in the 2006 Republican primary for sheriff against Wiggins, who then lost to Democrat Gary Wall. Birch was named Hayden police chief in December 2006.
Wiggins said in addition to serving as his second-in-command, Birch would be active in the Sheriff’s Office investigations unit. Wiggins said Birch also would assist with a review of the office’s policies and procedures and with grant writing.
Wiggins also said he wants the Sheriff’s Office to be more active in the community. He said Birch’s responsibilities could include working to restore the Elder Watch and D.A.R.E. programs.
Birch said he looks forward to a more administrative role in law enforcement.
Interim Hayden Town Manager Lance Stewart said he’s meeting with Birch and his staff Thursday to discuss how to move forward. He said Birch indicated that he will stay on at least until the end of the month. Stewart said he hoped to have a plan ready by the time the Hayden Town Council meets Jan. 6.
Mayor Jim Haskins said he’s not concerned.
“He’s going to be here. Ray’s influence is still going to be felt in the community, maybe on a broader basis now,” Haskins said. “He’s going to be available for things we need, advice on the transition. He lives in Hayden. He’s going to be at the sheriff’s department. It’s not like we’re going to have to reach real hard to find him.”
Wiggins previously offered the position to Joe DeAngelo, another former chief investigator for the District Attorney’s Office, who turned it down.