Our View: Oak Creek police issues like deja vu
July 3, 2012
Oak Creek residents had a chance in November to send a clear message about their desire for a stronger police presence in their community. But by rejecting a proposed sales tax increase that would have generated funds to pay for a second police officer, Oak Creek effectively said it wasn't interested in more police. That's certainly the town's right, but it makes it hard to stomach Oak Creek's recent gripes about Routt County's lack of enthusiasm for increasing the role of the Sheriff's Office in the small South Routt town.
If it feels like deja vu, that's because it is. The Oak Creek police merry-go-round has been circling for the better part of the past decade. Since the retirement of longtime police chief Reggie Mayes in 1999, it's been a virtual parade of short-lived, full-time chiefs, interim chiefs, police officers and code enforcement officers. Most recently, Officer Lance Dunaway resigned in May, citing the challenge of being the lone member of a department tasked with patrolling the town day and night.
Dunaway's resignation particularly was disappointing because he seemed to be well-liked and respected in a community that has had a tumultuous relationship with its law enforcement officers. And while seasonal Officer Eileen Rossi again will patrol the streets of Oak Creek this summer, the town will be left with no police force when Rossi departs come fall.
So last week during a Town Board meeting, Oak Creek trustees discussed their best options for providing law enforcement coverage. With a police department budget of about $120,000, the town is about $80,000 short of being able to pay for two full-time officers. Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins and the Routt County Board of Commissioners appear not to support another option: having the town contract with the Sheriff's Office to provide full-time law enforcement coverage in Oak Creek. The Sheriff's Office does provide emergency coverage for the town on a contract basis.
Given Oak Creek's history with law enforcement, we can't fault the county's apprehension. At their meeting, town trustees suggested meeting with the commissioners to discuss the issue, and some even talked about casting their vote for District 1 commissioner based on which candidate will be more willing to help Oak Creek. Mayor Nikki Knoebel questioned whether the commissioners understand Oak Creek's financial issues.
"Do they even know our budget? Do they actually relate? Do they see where we are?" she asked.
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We're guessing the commissioners are acutely aware of Oak Creek's situation, and that's why they're steering clear of a potentially burdensome commitment to law enforcement coverage there. Years of financial mismanagement and police department blunders have hurt Oak Creek, and while the blame can't be pinned on the current Town Board, it's now the one dealing with the consequences. Further, until the majority of Oak Creek residents demonstrate a true desire for full-time law enforcement coverage, it's hard to get behind the recent push for change.