“I don’t hunt the four-leggeds, just the two-leggeds,” joked David Scott, Ridgway’s top cop.
Despite the humor, “Scotty,” as everyone calls him, isn’t in the business of hunting people, even criminals; he uses his job to help people, he says. That’s what he loves about being a small-town cop.
“I’m here to help people,” he said. “If you’re here for the benefits or the retirement, or the 300-pound badge, you’re here for the wrong reason.”
Working in a small town gives Scott a sense of completion and satisfaction that was missing when he worked in the Denver area, where he started his career in law enforcement.
“I love community policing. You do everything from taking a telephone call to helping someone out of a ditch. In the big city, you do the arrest and you never know what happens after that,” he said.
That’s not to say Sheridan and Mountain View, two small towns in the Denver metro area where Scott policed for 11 years, weren’t without their own excitement and reward. One of his favorite adventures in being a policeman was delivering a baby during a traffic stop on Santa Fe, the main thoroughfare in Sheridan.
“Just the week before, we’d responded to a call for a baby named Savannah who’d died of [sudden infant death syndrome]. You go from one end of the spectrum to the other,” he said.
Scott has been shot at three times in the course of his career – thankfully not in Ridgway. Once it was just for being a cop driving down the street. Another time Scott was out searching for someone and found him when he started shooting at the patrol car.
“You can’t take it personal,” he said. “That’s when you gotta keep control of yourself, or else you lose the big picture and become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.”
Though he’s never been hit, bulletproof armor was a way of life back in the city. They had one set for everyday wear “that would stop anything we were carrying,” with the understanding that an accidental self-inflicted wound is the most likely kind to sustain.
On the other hand, the cops aren’t the only ones out there with guns. “We wore it faithfully year in and year out. You never know. You stop someone for a traffic violation, and you just never know why they’re running,” said Scott, who doesn’t wear the “armor” while patrolling Ridgway.
Scott has been in law enforcement for 27 years now, from the Front Range to Norwood to Ridgway, and though he says it’s just another job, “It’s all I want to do.”
At the same time, Scott hasn’t always been a cop.
“I was raised in a transmission shop,” he said. Born and raised in Denver, he endured a stint in the Marines (1968-71) as a tank mechanic stationed in Okinawa. After he got out of the service, he taught gas and diesel mechanics at Denver Automotive and Diesel College. He also used to race cars. He was on a stock car team in the early 1970s, and built engines for a formula race car team.
When asked what he does in his time off from work, he corrected the question: “You mean what would I do?”
The Ridgway Marshal’s Department is currently understaffed, with only Scott and Deputy Charles Beckner in the department. One officer stepped down in November to care for his ailing parents back East. The department is now in the screening process to hire a new officer, but with all the necessary paperwork and background checks, it’s a lengthy process. And that’s if they can find a qualified, and willing, candidate.
“It’s hard to find someone willing to move down here,” Scott said. “This is a small town with small pay, and someone just getting out of the police academy can’t afford to bring their family down here to live with them.”
Scott said he’s tried importing former colleagues from the Front Range. “The first thing their wives ask is, ‘Where’s the closest shopping center?’”
If he had more free time, though, Scott’s got a mid-1980s five-liter Ford Mustang sitting in his garage waiting to be restored. He and his wife, Krista, have a time-share condo in Cancun where he’d like to go more than once every couple of years. He also loves to fish and wouldn’t mind getting back into racing in some capacity, even if it was just having a little more time to watch the NASCAR races on TV.
And he has a softer side: “I’m a cat guy,” he said. He and Krista have three of them.
In a small town, people have high expectations of their law enforcement officers, and the feeling is mutual.
“The neat thing about small towns is that people know when you do something wrong, but they also know when you do something right,” he said.