By Beth Dodd:
Neither one of the candidates for Teller County Sheriff knows anything about local law enforcement. That would seem to be the case if you believed the many harsh words slung back and forth by top cop contender Mark Manriquez and incumbent Mike Ensminger at the Teller County Candidate’s Forum on October 8. The two men disagreed on the handling of the arson fires last summer, the proper use of the SWAT team, the conditions at the Teller County jail, and more.
Ensminger, a devoted Republican, started out with a strong statement supporting the second amendment, saying he would not allow the federal government to take away our right to bear arms. Teller County has one of the highest populations of gun owners in the state. Ensminger also stated that since he has been sheriff the crime rate in Teller County has dropped. In the past three years, burglaries are down 19 percent, child abuse is down 56 percent, domestic violence is down 53 percent, narcotics drug offenses are down 50 percent, and runaways are down 50 percent. He wants to be re-elected so he can continue moving in the right direction. He has been endorsed by the sheriffs in our neighboring counties.
Mark Manriquez, who is running as an independent after his failed bid to become Teller County Sheriff as a Republican in 2010, has been endorsed by the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police, the Colorado Springs Police Protection Association, the Teller County Democratic Party, and the Teller County Tea Party. In an attempt to attract Teller’s often-ignored democratic and unaffiliated voters, Manriquez says he wants to unify instead of polarize the community. He says several pending lawsuits against the sheriff’s office have created a negative environment. His goals are to restore professionalism to the department, return to community based policing, rebuild the jail for improved safety, and improve the department’s ability to solve major crimes.
Ensminger says that under his direction the sheriff’s department has been successful in investigating and stopping major crimes, and gave several examples. They broke a forgery ring and partnered with the community to investigate 30 reports of arson fires while preventing any major fires from staring in Teller County. Manriquez disputed Ensminger, saying that his facts are inaccurate and the department lacks leadership and training. Manriquez also said that people complained of a disconnect between the sheriff’s office and the people during the fires, and that there needs to be better planning and better relationships with the local fire departments. Ensminger shot back that relationships with local fire departments are wonderful, and he is proud of every one of his deputies for being friendly and professional.
Manriquez also said he wants freedom from sexual harassment within the department, to improve the agency’s image through professionalism and training, and to de-militarize the department. Manriquez referred several times to the police officer’s bill of rights.
At one point people in the audience laughed when Manriquez accused Ensminger of having deputies involved in monitoring the blasting noise of an NEK bomb testing event using a sound monitoring device. Ensminger said they didn’t have a “sound monitoring device” and he had no clue what Manriquez was talking about. Ensminger stated that his department had no involvement in the exercise.
Manriquez also challenged Ensminger on the use of the SWAT Team, claiming that the SWAT had been used as first responders and taken out to do welfare checks. Ensminger responded that using the SWAT requires planning and a longer response time, and it is never used as a first option. The SWAT vehicle is for rescue and is used to save lives rather than take them. To make his point, Ensminger held up a photo of a bullet scar on the armored SWAT vehicle that was made when the officers inside were shot at. Ensminger later added that the SWAT unit is important to have in the advent of a possible mass casualty event like the shootings at Columbine and Sandy Hook. Manriquez thought that it was more beneficial to our children for law enforcement to be involved in drug education and diversity training.
Ensminger and Manriquez also clashed over the second amendment. When the candidates were asked what they would do if the Obama Administration repealed the second amendment, Ensminger said he would do nothing unconstitutional and that it was his job to enforce the law without prejudice. Manriquez did not appear to believe him, asking, “What laws won’t Mike enforce based on his personal views?” Ensminger responded that Manriquez doesn’t understand that he would never violate anyone’s constitutional rights.
Another point of contention was the Teller County jail. When asked if he would make any changes at the county lock-up, Ensminger said that audits have consistently identified the jail as a model facility, both secure and clean. Manriquez disagreed strongly, calling security at the jail “horrific” and claiming that guests have entered the facility without ID or weapons checks.
The several lawsuits pending against the Teller County Sheriff’s Office were also brought up. Ensminger contended that lawsuits against law enforcement agencies are “a dime a dozen” and they have had among the fewest suits for an agency of Teller County’s size. While Manriquez conceded that some of the recent lawsuits were inherited from Ensminger’s predecessor, he also stated that bad behavior is pervasive in the department due to mismanagement and a lack of leadership, supervision, and training. Ensminger replied that he has never been admonished by any court.
Ensminger chalked up the departure of a large number of deputies from service in Teller County during his tenure to low pay, a problem that is common in law enforcement across the county, and says the attrition rate is close to the national average. Manriquez predictably disagreed, claiming that it is 300-400 percent above the national average, and that he would create an outstanding work environment if he was elected.
Teller County Commissioner Dave Paul, Coroner Al Born, Clerk & Recorder Krystal Brown, and Treasurer & Public Trustee Robert Campbell also participated in the forum on October 8. All of these officials are running unopposed to retain their current jobs. They made comments on their experience and the nature of their jobs, and encouraged Teller residents to vote.
The forum was held in front of a full house at the Woodland Park City Council Chambers. With applause being offered for both sheriff’s candidates during the evening, there was no obvious crowd favorite between the two.