Steamboat Springs The oft-troubled Oak Creek Police Department is again having issues.
In a recent letter to the Oak Creek Town Board, Officer Lance Dunaway outlined his frustrations in communicating with Police Commissioner Chuck Wisecup, who also is the Oak Creek fire chief and a member of the Town Board.
“For more than a year now, I have witnessed a complete lack of communication with Chuck Wisecup as a police commissioner,” Dunaway wrote. “Emails have gone unresponded to, the Oak Creek Police Department has not been invited to any fire trainings in more than a year, and Oak Creek employee personnel matters are never discussed with the employee, but rather called out in open meeting by Chuck Wisecup.”
Mayor Nikki Knoebel said she is looking into the conflict and potential solutions.
“I’m actively in talks with Chuck and Lance on the best way to get this resolved and whether it is switching out Chuck as police commissioner,” Knoebel said Tuesday. “I am trying to get an open conversation going between them.”
One particular incident last week prompted the letter, but Dunaway said the problem goes much deeper. Wisecup said the last time the two had a face-to-face meeting was fall 2010.
The last straw for Dunaway, however, took place April 12, when the Oak Creek Fire Protection District held a training exercise involving a mock traffic accident at Soroco High School. As an educational tool to remind students about the dangers of driving drunk, the accident also served as a training exercise for local law enforcement personnel, including Colorado State Patrol troopers.
Dunaway said he wasn’t invited even though he was in town and on duty. He said he didn’t know the event was going on.
“The lack of communication has been going on for approximately a year,” Dunaway said Tuesday. “And the incident at the high school just brought a lot of things to the forefront for me.”
Wisecup attributed the oversight to a clerical error; he said he intended to invite Dunaway.
“I talked to Lance after (Thursday’s Town Board) meeting because I was surprised as well when this letter came up,” Wisecup said Tuesday. “There was no intention on my part to leave him out.”
Dunaway said he could accept that incident as an oversight, but that doesn’t change the underlying issues.
Wisecup said deeper issues of communication within the one-officer police department are “a totally separate issue.” He said he plans to meet with town officials and Dunaway in the near future and thinks a resolution can be found.
Dunaway reiterated Tuesday that he has not had any communication issues with the Oak Creek Fire Department as a whole.
The police issue was briefly discussed during last week’s public Town Board meeting. One audience member called for Wisecup to step down as police commissioner. Others said they were worried about Dunaway leaving the position if his frustrations continued to mount.
“I feel that the situation should be mitigated and retooled between everyone,” Oak Creek resident Ann Trout said Tuesday. She attended last week’s Town Board meeting to represent a focus group that helped identify the town’s law enforcement needs two years ago. “People that I talk to feel that (Dunaway) has been a perfect fit and we have a lot invested in him, and I think the situation should be resolved amicably with nobody leaving.”
In his letter, Dunaway also expressed hope for a solution.
“I hope that this situation can be improved, because the citizens and employees of this town deserve better,” Dunaway wrote.
Police issues are familiar to Oak Creek. The town has had six full-time chiefs, a couple of interim chiefs and a number of part-time and full-time officers since 17-year veteran Reggie Mayes left the department in 1999. More recently, Chief Russ Caterinicchio and Sgt. Erik Foster resigned in controversy in September 2008. Dunaway was hired in November 2009 and trained under seasonal officer Eileen Rossi.
— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com