by Rick Langenberg:
Local residents are still highly divided regarding Green Mountain Falls’ law enforcement future, but are united in a desire to have good police coverage.
In the first of what may become several public meetings regarding the fate of the town’s marshal’s office, no prevailing verdict emerged. At issue is whether the town should revive its marshal’s department, or if it should eliminate the agency altogether and work with El Paso County to form a sheriff’s substation in the new town hall, or develop more citizen patrols.
A brief debate between Mayor Lorrie Worthey and Mayor Pro Tem Jane Newberry, who are both seeking the mayoral position on April 1, further accentuated the tensions surrounding this touchy subject.
“This is a lovely opportunity,” said Newberry, in expressing her support for establishing a no-cost arrangement with El Paso County, instead of continuing with a traditional marshal’s office. “The reality is money is very limited (for the town government). We have to take a cold hard look at reality. We have to take a hard look at double taxation,” added Newberry. As someone who grew up in Cascade, the mayor pro tem said she never felt threatened by the crime situation in the Ute Pass. She also urged citizens to take more initiative by forming “sheriff citizen patrols.”
But the mayor grilled Newberry on whether the majority trustees really examined the budget before deciding to ax the marshal’s office. “Have we looked at ways to save more money without getting rid of the marshal’s office?” questioned the mayor. “How can you make that statement, if we have not looked at other ways to save money,” added Worthey. Worthey has backed the idea to retain a marshal’s office.
Most current trustees agree with Newberry, saying public comments back up their assertion that police coverage is more than adequate in GMF under the new cooperative arrangement. They also cited the high costs of running a marshal’s office, contending that the costs for manning this office, on a crime per capita basis, was one of the highest in the Pikes Peak region. Currently, police coverage in GMF is being conducted by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department, the Colorado State Patrol and the Teller County Sheriff’s Office. “This further supports what I have said before. I have seen a lot more patrols recently,” said Trustee Margaret Peterson, in responding to public comments at last week’s workshop.
The issue has been somewhat controversial due to the fact that GMF town leaders parted ways with its former marshal Tim Bradley in early November under less than favorable circumstances and opted to immediately terminate this office, a 100 year-plus tradition of the town. Then, patrolling of the town with code enforcement cars began; a sight that has generated many comments in recent weeks.
Recently, in an editorial published in TMJ, Bradley expressed much criticism about the way most town leaders have handled the law enforcement predicament.
During last week’s workshop, former mayor/trustee and long-time resident Dick Bratton, once again stressed the importance of revitalizing this office. “A local marshal knows this town,” said Bratton. “This can save lives.”
He also cited several emergency cases and 911 calls involving 30-minue-plus responses that have happened since the town got rid of its marshal’s office. The former mayor maintained that the town’s security is at risk. Bratton also stressed that its current law enforcement arrangement with El Paso County is temporary.
Resident Ann Pinell agreed, mentioning the historic legacy of this department for Green Mountain Falls. “The marshal’s office is part of our history,” said Pinell. “That office has been here for over 100 years. It is part of the heart-to-heart connection.”
She relayed stories of the town marshal’s effort to assist residents, whether through returning run-away animals or looking out for their homes while they were on vacation, or being available if a fight occurred at a local establishment. “They have leaned over backwards (to help citizens),” said the resident.
But history or not, a few residents question if the town really needs a marshal. “I do not see the need for a marshal,” said Katharine Guthrie, who served on the town’s economic sustainability committee. “We haven’t had 24/7 coverage by a marshal,” said Guthrie.
She also agreed with Newberry and the majority trustees in outlining the financial implications of running a marshal’s office. Guthrie maintained that with a marshal’s office, the town was spending more on law enforcement, per crime basis, than any town in El Paso County. She also questioned the validity of the reports regarding inadequate response times.
A few residents agreed with Guthrie and cited the current arrangement as quite satisfactory. One resident outlined a recent incident, involving the steps an El Paso County deputy made to examine the home of a local resident who was out of town.
Other residents said they didn’t care what course the town pursues, but cited the importance of having a solid “law enforcement presence” in GMF. “It is a matter of having qualified individuals,” said Kimberly Christianson.
The law enforcement situation may be addressed again at another public meeting.