Crime Concerns Steal the Spotlight at Town Hall Meetings

Law Enforcement Leaders Get Personal With Residents Over Slew of Hot Issues

Trevor Phipps

As state lawmakers continue with this year’s legislative session, a number of sizzling controversial issues have hit the debate floor like never before.

Hot topics, such as concerns over more crime, drugs, homelessness and immigration, have taken center stage across the country and state, with fiery comments raging at times.

The same scenario holds true in Teller County.

Last week, law enforcement agencies across Teller County teamed up with the Teller Rifles organization and several other nonprofits to host a series of public town hall meetings. Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell and Cripple Creek Police Chief Bud Bright served as the guests of honor and keynote speakers.

On March 1, Sheriff Mikesell held one of the meetings at the Victor Fire Department, while Chief Bright hosted a similar meeting the following afternoon at the Cripple Creek Heritage Center, which was also available to watch online.

This week the town hall series heads to the central part of the county to reach residents in the Divide, Florissant and Woodland Park areas. The last town hall meeting of the series is slated for March 8, and could actually become the highlight event. Mikesell, who has had plenty of practice in recent months addressing hot crime issues before state lawmakers, is scheduled to speak at his home turf at the Teller County Sheriff’s Office headquarters in Divide.

According to the events’ flyer, the meetings give the public a chance to sit down with local law enforcement leaders and discuss current issues taking places in their individual communities. The topics of discussion include crime, homelessness, drugs and illegal immigration, just to name a few, and how the issues have impacted the communities.

According to Teller County Sheriff Lieutenant Renee Bunting, the meetings will look similar to what the sheriff has done in the past with his “coffee with the sheriff” events. Bunting said that community outreach is important to the sheriff, and that the recent meetings are a way for him to get back in touch with the public.

Also, these forums could give the sheriff more ammunition in addressing key state leaders. Putting clamps on law enforcement agencies in combating crime and illegal immigration is a growing concerns among sheriffs and law officers across Colorado.

The lieutenant said that the sheriff has done other meetings across the county where he brings up statistics of crimes that have taken place locally. People will then have the chance to ask the sheriff questions about the increase of crime the county has experienced.

The issue of immigration has been one that the sheriff’s office has emphasized since they developed the 287g partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency after they dealt with drug cartel members in marijuana grow houses within the county. For the last few years, the sheriff has been engulfed in a legal battle with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Democratic state legislators over Teller’s partnership with ICE.

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit to end the partnership and state lawmakers have written and passed two bills in an attempt to end the sheriff’s 287g partnership. The issue came back to the forefront last month when Sheriff Mikesell along with other sheriffs from other counties across the state unsuccessfully tried to push a proposed bill, endorsed by sheriffs across Colorado, through the state legislature. This legislation would have repealed two recently passed pro-immigration laws and given law officers more leeway in cracking down on illegal immigrants (see related story).

As part of the town hall meetings, the sheriff headed to Victor to reach out to the small southern Teller community, which often gets left out of these types of sessions. The addition of a Heritage Center event, featuring Cripple Creek Police Chief Bud Bright as a main speaker, provided an opportunity for discussion on key crime issues confronting Cripple Creek. The population in Cripple Creek is expected to increase dramatically over the next decade with a slew of new housing developments and more overnight amenities.

Good Opportunity for Discussion of Key Issues

According to Teller Rifles member Charles Solomone, the group decided to host the meetings to give the public a chance to hear from law enforcement leaders directly about issues that are not only occurring all across the country, but that also impact the county. Solomone, who also previously served as a member of the Cripple Creek City Council, said that although the group gave a handful of topics, they did not give Mikesell or Bright any further direction as far as what they would talk about.

Bright said that he was asked by Teller Rifles to put on the meeting. The meetings didn’t have a strict format, but Bright said that Teller Rifles did ask him to talk about topics such as drugs, homelessness and immigration, and how these matters have impacted Cripple Creek.

The chief said that the city does experience a fair share of issues with more crime, drugs, and homelessness. In addition, illegal immigration is a topic that has been brought up recently. The chief said that there have been immigration concerns with some employees at the newly built Chamonix casino and hotel. At the same time, he stressed that Bronco Billy’s, the operator of the project, has taken steps to prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants.

Currently, there are not any Teller Rifles town hall meetings scheduled for Woodland Park, but the Woodland Park Police Department does regularly host community engagement events with Police Chief Chris Deisler. Ever since Deisler took the reins of the police department, he has hosted monthly meetings at a variety of venues with guest speakers.

During the meetings, the public gets the chance to ask the chief questions about issues facing the community. The next community engagement meeting in Woodland Park hosted by Chief Deisler is slated for March 13.