Due to the vast number of phone calls and emails I have been receiving in the past couple of days, I feel some clarification in regard to the article “Sheriff won’t back gun laws” (Steamboat Today, March 20) is appropriate and necessary.
Twenty-seven years ago, I took my first oath of office and have taken several more since. The oath of office to protect and serve with honor and integrity is something I always have taken very seriously. To eliminate any misunderstandings, I will enforce the laws under my authority and protect and serve all Routt County residents to the best of my ability.
With that said, most of us will agree that something has to be done to curtail the evil and violent incidents our state and country have had to endure such as the Columbine, Aurora and Sandy Hook shootings. Experts from around the globe agree the issue of violence is multifaceted, and to effectively address our nation’s recurring violence problem, we must evaluate all contributing circumstances, evidence and data.
Our hearts break from all these senseless tragedies, and I cannot begin to comprehend the anguish these parents and families have to endure after the loss of their children and loved ones. I understand the concern we all have regarding violence in our society because I have small children attending public school, and my wife is a public school teacher.
I become more concerned every day as we are torn apart by our political differences resulting in a failure to communicate and accomplish sensible goals on which we all can agree. We must insist that politics be put aside, and we must work diligently together to correct our societal problems.
A comprehensive review of these bills by expert witnesses, including attorneys of criminal and constitutional law as well as law enforcement professionals from across the state, revealed a plethora of serious shortcomings. The poorly structured wording of some of these bills was indicative of the authors having minimal, if any, law enforcement experience or understanding of criminal law. These concerns were articulated clearly during numerous testimonies and were acknowledged by several committee members. Some of the bills were amended but still failed to address all the legal concerns.
The County Sheriffs of Colorado president and several other sheriffs requested numerous times to meet with Gov. John Hickenlooper to discuss the bills’ flaws and the difficulties of enforcing the new laws. CSOC, which represents top law enforcement officials in the state, never was afforded the opportunity to meet with Hickenlooper prior to the signing of these bills.
I feel it is my duty as sheriff to be honest with and informative to the residents of Routt County, even at the risk of my career. I had hoped the article in the Steamboat Today would clearly articulate my stance, but that obviously did not happen. Maybe that is my fault, and if so, I apologize. Hopefully in the near future, these new laws clearly and objectively will be explained as to their constitutionality and enforceability.
I cannot begin to talk about the concerns in this short article, so for individuals who have the desire to learn more about the problems with these new laws, we will be conducting town hall meetings throughout the county. I hope to see you there, and together we can have quality and thoughtful conversations.
Rest assured, the Routt County Sheriff’s Office is doing everything possible to keep our communities safe. Working in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies and our 22 public and private schools, the Sheriff’s Office has developed a School Site Safety Evaluation program. The program consists of Sheriff’s Office volunteers who have experience with threat assessment, construction design and other areas of expertise. The team takes several days to conduct the assessment of the school to address security concerns and then provides a detailed review with school officials. The program is designed to enhance security measures and to keep children and staff as safe as possible. It recently has been deployed and is receiving a lot of attention, appreciation and enthusiasm. In addition, deputies visit our schools as often as possible to ensure a consistent law enforcement presence.
To those questioning my stance, I can assure you that these laws are not subject to an arbitrary or constitutional interpretation on my part but on the impracticality of enforcing a poorly written law. Law enforcement officers, including the sheriff, can be held criminally and civilly liable for taking enforcement action when the officer thought or should have known the action was illegal or a violation of the individual’s civil rights. The constitutionality of these laws is a major concern that has been recorded during testimony by several sitting senators, representatives, constitutional lawyers and law enforcement officers. I hope in the near future, the courts will make a ruling as to the constitutionality of these new laws. Until a ruling is made, the Sheriff’s Office will focus its limited resources in a manner that will best serve our residents.
Garrett Wiggins is the Routt County sheriff.