City to keep new downtown Steamboat police officer position

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— An approved funding request will help the Steamboat Springs Police Department maintain a stronger presence in the busy downtown area.

The Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday voted to spend $86,000 in 2013 to fund an additional police officer position that will be dedicated to downtown. Adjusting upward the city's projected sales tax revenues will pay for $73,000 of the full-time position. The remainder of the officer's salary and benefits will be paid for by diverting $13,000 from the council's contingency fund.

The police department and downtown business leaders have advocated for the position in recent years. They said the downtown scene is busier now because of the combination of new bars and restaurants downtown and fewer bars and restaurants at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.

“It’s a concentration of nightlife in a four- or five-square-block area,” Police Chief Joel Rae said Wednesday.

Further prompting a dedicated position for the downtown area have been several high-profile crimes, assaults and fights, some of which resulted in serious injuries as well as the death of one man in 2009.

The police presence downtown was increased this summer, and in August, an officer was assigned strictly to the downtown area. In addition to walking through bars, the officer patrols the streets and acts as a resource for business owners.

“The goal is to have the cop down there when downtown is the busiest,” Rae said.

Business owners were overwhelmingly supportive, and Rae said the number of complaints about noise downtown has decreased by 27 percent.

“People are just more aware that there is a quick response if they need it,” said Tracy Barnett, manager of the Mainstreet Steamboat Springs group. “Downtown is perceived as safer than it was, which is something we really have to keep up with.”

Rae said one major change has been made to the downtown resource officer program. Instead of having a single officer dedicated to the beat, the department's patrol officers will rotate every one or two months. Rae said he wants all of his officers to be exposed to different beats and experiences, and he hopes the format will give downtown businesses a chance to build a relationship with all the officers.

“Every month or two, they will see a new face,” Rae said.

Kiel Petkoff was the first officer assigned to downtown. Officer Jeff Wilson currently is assigned the downtown beat.

“I’m really glad they decided to fund it,” Barnett said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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