Sheriff Remains Focused On Public Safety

SO Photos
Photo of Sheriff Mike Ensminger at the Sheriff’s open house that was held at the Sheriff’s office last week (7/19) Photo by CR Chambers

Ensminger Dismisses Opponent’s Claims

by Rick Langenberg:

Even with the official battle lines being drawn in the forthcoming race for the county’s head law enforcement official, Sheriff Mike Ensminger has vowed to avoid the campaign gun fire and to remain focused on his job as Teller’s top cop.

 “We are going to keep our focus.  We are not going to be distracted,” said the sheriff in a recent interview in which he discussed his goals and the upcoming November campaign. 

Round Two of the 2014 campaign season recently kicked off with clerk officials determining that Mark Manriquez, Ensminger’s prime opponent, obtained enough valid signatures from registered Teller voters to secure a spot on the Nov. 4ballot for sheriff. This will serve as the sole county race being contested this fall. It will represent a rematch from four years ago, and according to most predictions, the race could get quite heated.

Ensminger, though, says he doesn’t want to turn the race into a reactionary, mud-slinging contest and is classifying some of the claims made by his opponent as nothing more than campaign rhetoric. In a recent forum, Manriquez, the unaffiliated contender who works as a criminal investigator for the Colorado Division of Gaming, came out swinging and charged the Ensminger administration with putting the county at risk. Manriquez cited a slew of concerns regarding such issues as Teller jail operations, lawsuits, officer turnover and the revocation of gun permits.

The sheriff, though, contends he wants to take the high road. “We have a job to do,” added the incumbent sheriff.  And according to Ensminger, that means continuing his work in making Teller County a safe place.  “The safety of TellerCounty is our number one goal. That will be our focus.” He says the agency has taken a strong stand against burglaries, thefts, illegal drugs and serious criminal activity; especially considering Teller’s close proximity to Colorado Springs.   

The sheriff stands behind his track record of the last three and a half years.

Moreover, he cites major improvements made by his administration in patrolling subdivisions, working with other agencies, solving big cases, having a top-rate SWAT team, focusing more on domestic violence and child abuse cases and dealing with the public directly. “We have taken down the walls,” said Ensminger in reference to his efforts to make the agency more accessible to the public. “We want the community to know us on a first-name basis.” 

Gun laws, jail facility and officer turnover

The sheriff has received much national publicity for his role as a defender of the Second Amendment, and in combating new gun control laws. These gun control laws, adopted in Coloradoin 2013, are heavily opposed by Teller residents.  The sheriff said he plans to continue pursuing this pro-Second Amendment stance, if re-elected. “I represent their voice,” said Ensminger.

Ensminger, who serves on the board of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, admitted he wasn’t disappointed by a recent court ruling that upheld two of the contested gun laws.  One pertained to mandatory background checks and the other addressed limits on magazine ammunition.  “I was not surprised,” said Ensminger, who joined many Colorado sheriffs in the original lawsuit against these laws.  “We were expecting that,” he said. Ensminger believes that ultimately this issue will land in the lap of the U.S. Supreme Court.  

In the meantime, the sheriff said he plans to closely monitor the gun law issue and make sure the regulations don’t adversely impact local gun owners. He cites the fact that TellerCounty takes these rights very seriously. The area now ranks as sixth in the nation for local gun ownership on a per capita basis.

Ensminger is also a proponent of working to curb domestic violence and child abuse incidents.  He was appointed by Governor John Hickenlooper to the state’s child fatality review board. As for the plethora of allegations against his administration, Ensminger strongly dismisses these claims.  “It just shows that he (Mark Manriquez) doesn’t have the institutional knowledge to be sheriff,” said Ensminger.  When it comes to the jail in Divide, an issue of some contention, the sheriff says that the county runs a superb and safe facility that is now making money.  “The jail is an enterprise fund. It is a revenue-based jail,” said the sheriff, who noted that these were the “(financial) cards he was dealt” when he took office. And with this system, the sheriff says he must establish contracts with other outside state and federal agencies to fill up the facility, while keeping a well-staffed and safe jail. Ensminger believes the county has reached a good balance in operating the jail. He contends that the facility now boasts of monthly income increases that exceed $70,000.

According to Ensminger, the jail has passed every single audit and hasn’t experienced a single escape or encountered any riots or trouble-related incidents. In addition, he doesn’t see any issues with the potential for inmate overcrowding. The sheriff also counters allegations that criticize his track record in revoking concealed gun permits. He contends that these statistics have been blown way out of proportion.  Manriquez cites figures indicating that one-third of the concealed gun permit revocations in the state of Colorado were issued by the Teller sheriff. But according to Ensminger, most of these revocations were only done on a temporary basis. The revocations were prompted by laws requiring his office to take this action when certain crimes were committed, such as domestic violence and driving under the influence. “One hundred percent of these (permit revocations) were due to people committing crimes. This is not due to any personal action on my part,” explained the sheriff.  

As for the volatile issue of officer attrition within the agency, the sheriff says he is working with the county commissioners in trying to increase base salaries for deputies. More importantly, the sheriff said he wants to play a key role in advancing the careers of Teller law officers.

As for allegations regarding many agency personnel leaving in the last three and a half years, the sheriff attributed this high attrition rate to current realities. “That is part of law enforcement,” said the sheriff. He maintained that several years ago, law enforcement agencies in Colorado averaged a 30-plus percent rate for officer turnover. The national average is estimated at about 14 percent.

According to Ensminger, the Teller agency is now recording an officer departure rate of just a little more than 7 percent a year. The sheriff estimated that this figure is lower than when he first took office.  He admits, though, that this is a problem, and cited the high turnover with Teller law enforcement agencies as a whole; and not just at the sheriff’s office.