For incumbent Sheriff Mike Ensminger, seeking a second and final term is a no-brainer. “I really want to continue the programs we started and accomplish a lot more for the citizens of Teller County,” said Ensminger, who announced preliminary plans to run again as early as the spring of 2013. In recent months, Ensminger received the strong support of Teller Republican leaders and has received many endorsements from key law enforcement officials in the region, including District Attorney Dan May, Cripple Creek Police Chief Mike Rulo and Woodland Park Police Chief Bob Larson.
The incumbent is running strongly behind his record since he assumed the head law enforcement post in September 2010. Topping the list of accomplishments is Ensminger’s publicized role in defending the Second Amendment gun ownership rights, a position that has garnered national publicity for the county. Ensminger serves on the board of directors for the County Sheriffs of Colorado and was a big player in the lawsuit against several of the new gun control laws in Colorado. “The real issue is defending all of our constitutional rights. We are at a real turning point here,” said the sheriff, who has gained much support locally for his strong stand against gun control measures, enacted in Colorado in 2013. He has been profiled in national and state media outlets and is a frequent speaker for the sheriffs association regarding the subject of gun rights. In addition, Ensminger cites his involvement in family-related issues in Teller County and across the state. He was appointed by Governor John Hickenlooper to the state’s Child Fatality Review Board.
As a result of more public awareness, he says domestic violence cases are down in Teller County. “That is significant,” said the sheriff.
More importantly, he maintains the sheriff’s office has transcended from what some perceived in the past as a ‘good ol’ boy’ network into a more transparent and open administration. As a result, he says better relations have occurred between the sheriff’s office and the county commissioners and with other agencies. “I have kept an open door policy,” said the sheriff. He also touts the agency’s annual all-day open house as a great way to allow residents to learn the inner workings of the agency. In addition, he started a leadership council.
The sheriff also says he has succeeded in an area that frustrated previous administrations: turning the county jail in Divide into a prosperous enterprise. “The jail is making money,” said Ensminger. He has increased the jail’s monthly income by more than $70,000 by securing prison contracts with more federal agencies and even neighboring counties. The jail now is approaching a near capacity level, a inmate population rate that appeared unattainable since the county took over the management of the facility in the late 1990s.
As for success in cracking big cases, Ensminger says a suspect has been identified in a string of arsons that bombarded Teller in the summer of 2012, shortly before the Waldo Canyon blaze. The case has been turned over to the Four Judicial District Attorney’s Office. His office also broke up a major identity theft ring, successfully apprehended an air Force ecapee, played a key role in investigating the Back Hebrew polygamous religious cult and intervened in handling a major sexual assault case, just to name a few highlights.
But not all of his efforts have been met with welcome arms. Sheriff critics contend that the agency has experienced a huge deputy and officer turnover rate and the department has gotten hit with slew o lawsuits, a few of which have been filed by former veterans. Some critics have accused the agency of questionable enforcement actions, which may have prompted these suits and that could cost the county thousands of dollars. Ensminger, though, denies these claims and stressed that the sheriff’s department is not going to please everyone. As for turnover rate, he contends that the agency’s rate of nutrition is much lower than the national average. He says the same thing is true about the report of lawsuits, filed against the agency. “That is the nature of the job,” explained Ensminger.
For his second term, the sheriff wants to continue what he started. One issue he really wants to address is the low pay of Teller sheriff officers. “That really saddens me,” said Ensminger. “It is a big problem.” He plans to work with the county commissioners in changing this low salary plight of entry-level deputies.
The sheriff’s office is also revamping its SWAT program that has won top awards in national events. He says more neighboring agencies from Cripple Creek and Woodland Park are now involved in the program that involves extensive training. The unit handles many major cases, running the gamut from major drug busts, to kidnapping attempts and more routine disputes.