OURAY – Concerned citizens and merchants in Ouray called a meeting on Tuesday with City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli and Police Chief Leo Rasmussen to discuss what one business owner called “ a crime spree” of break-ins and burglaries.
Chief Rasmussen told the group that the numbers aren’t really up that much from previous years, but most in attendance didn’t want to talk numbers.
“We have the feeling the police no longer walk among us,” said Dee Hilton, who was instrumental, with the Ouray Chamber Resort Association, in putting the meeting together. Hilton, who owns the Wildflower Boutique, went on: “The perception is that the police department is not actually pursuing these burglars. When you don’t talk to us directly, rumor and speculation take over.”
Rondinelli spoke to the limitations of what the PD can and cannot talk about. “Leo can give you some general information, but with investigations ongoing, there won’t be many details. This really upsets me,” he went on. “Somebody has targeted this community.”
Rasmussen defended his department’s actions so far. “I’m sorry there’s the perception that we are not walking amongst you. The police can’t talk about details. We can’t tell you who is a suspect. People say, ‘What are you holding from us?’ It hurts. It builds a wall.”
Rasmussen broke down the number and kind of incidents that are being investigated. There are 13 in all since the summer. Three were attempted burglaries: somebody tried to break in and failed. Two were thefts: there was no forced entry; they could be a snatch-and-grab from a store. And that leaves eight actual burglaries, he said, where there was both forced entry and something stolen. Two were residential, two were cars, and four were businesses.
Those eight are three more than occurred in 2009. “And I realize,” Rasmussen said, “that that is not setting well with the public, with the police, and with the victims.”
He went on to gently chastise some of the victims and some in the community who have shared with one another what he called “intimate details” about the crimes. This just makes our investigations more difficult, he said. “Only three people should know the intimate details [of how the break-in occurred, what was taken, etc.]: the victims themselves; the police; and the person who did it.”
It’s much harder to follow a lead, Rondinelli added, when the person you are questioning can simply say he heard about the incident from the victim, or gossip at the Post Office.
“We didn’t know we weren’t supposed to share information among ourselves,” said Jenny Cairo, owner of the Apteka Liquor and Convenience Store.
All agreed that communication between law enforcement and the business community could be much better.
“What can we do?” Rondinelli asked by way of moving forward. “We can all be aware of our surroundings. Not to be your brother’s keeper, but to report things that seem suspicious to you. You can all take your cash out of the cash register at night. You can make sure your doors and windows are all locked tight. You can leave a light on so that when an officer goes by on patrol, he can see what’s going on inside. You can report any incident in a timely manner. Call 911 right away. And don’t share intimate information with each other. If the police are interviewing a suspect, and the source of that suspect’s info leads back to the victim, that lead is a dead end.”
“Maybe it’s time to start a neighborhood watch program,” suggested Tamara Gulde, owner of Rocky Mountain Treasures and Gifts. “Officers need to come in and talk to business owners. That needs to happen. I want to feel safe.” Gulde went on to acknowledge that the city is short one police officer right now with the retirement of Tony Chelf (and that budgetary constraints have prevented the city from filling that position). But, she said, “I think we need another cop. I think we need 24-hour surveillance, cops in plain clothes, cops driving unmarked vehicles – until this thing is solved.”
Rasmussen responded that plain clothes would likely do little good in a community as small and familiar as Ouray. “[Officer] Tony [Schmidt] grew up here. Ted [Wolf] has been here a long time. Residents would recognize them in uniform or out. They [the officers] would still have to be armed. They’d still have to carry their radios.” As for driving other cars, Rasmussen said there would likely be liability issues with that.
“We are doing some things I can’t tell you about,” he said finally. “We have suspects.”
Ouray native Ben Tisdel asked about the “roughly 50 percent of homes in town that are unoccupied in the winter. They need to be protected too.”
“Police can’t establish a special relationship with any class of citizens,” Rasmussen answered. A recent lawsuit in Colorado threw that out where a city became liable for damage and losses to seasonal residents.”
“Well, can we formalize the neighborhood watch?” Tisdel asked.
It starts with neighbors watching out for neighbors, Rasmussen said. “That’s how they caught the Times Square bomber. Son of Sam was caught because of a parking ticket.”
Rondinelli added, “My dad was a Denver police officer. I grew up with the attitude: watch out for each other.”
Concerned citizen June Kirchner said that the meeting was overdue. “This should have happened a long time ago. They [the city] should have been pro-active in dealing with this.”