UPDATED: Community Demands Answers as Third Cop Quits Department
by Samantha Wright
May 22, 2013 | 3812 views | 1 1 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WANTING ANSWERS – Ouray hotelier and former city councilor Betty Wolfe expressed her concern about the recent police department resignations, and demanded answers, at last Monday’s Ouray City Council meeting as a crowd of about 30 community members watched. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
WANTING ANSWERS – Ouray hotelier and former city councilor Betty Wolfe expressed her concern about the recent police department resignations, and demanded answers, at last Monday’s Ouray City Council meeting as a crowd of about 30 community members watched. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
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OURAY –The story of the exodus from the Ouray Police Department that began last week with the resignations of Police Chief Leo Rasmusson and officer Tony Schmidt gained new momentum this week, as another officer quit the department and the city revealed in a statement that Rasmusson had in fact been asked to resign in the wake of a controversy regarding a newly implemented schedule at the police department. 

Officer Chad Rilling turned in his badge minutes before the Ouray City Council meeting got underway on Monday night, May 20. 

“He gave a salute, he looked at me and I could tell he was choked up,” Councilor Michael Underwood told The Watch. “He handed me a piece of paper (his resignation letter) and put the badge on top with the keys to his squad car, and said ‘That’s it. I can’t do it.’” 

Underwood described a conversation he had had with Rilling the previous Friday that tiptoed around the troubles brewing in the Ouray Police Department. “He said he really loved this community and wanted to work for the community. But he was very upset. So I wasn’t even at all surprised by his resignation,” Underwood said.

Rilling’s departure left the Ouray community with just one police officer, and a lot of unanswered questions and concerns. Many of these were addressed in a statement that the city issued late Wednesday afternoon, which has been posted in its entirety below this story.

The statement acknowledges the transition of leadership at the Ouray Police Department, goes into some detail as to the nature of the controversy over the scheduling matter that led to the trio of resignations, and takes the former members of the police department to task for demonstrating “a disregard for the City’s duty to provide for public safety and welfare.”

Meanwhile, the department’s sole remaining officer, Justin Crandall, told council on Monday that given the circumstances, some basic services provided by the department may be curtailed for the moment, including VIN inspections and fingerprinting. 

Crandall said he will be prioritizing calls as they come up, with an emphasis on criminal cases. “I cannot work 24/7,” he said, “but I will be patrolling as much as possible.” 

Crandall, who joined the department two years ago and was until this week the most junior member of the four-man department, asked for citizens’ cooperation in “keeping their eyes open for things,” as the city works toward filling the vacancies left in the wake of the recent exodus.  

In the short term, the city has worked out a schedule through the end of May with the Ouray County Sheriff’s Office, hiring off-duty sheriff deputies as contract employees to help meet the City of Ouray’s law enforcement needs. 

“We hope to deal with other issues the department has, especially getting officers hired, as quickly as possible,” Crandall added. 

City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli said the department vacancies will be advertised locally and regionally starting this week. The police chief position will be open for three weeks, and the two remaining positions will be open for two weeks. Depending on the volume of responses, a hiring committee will form to evaluate the merits of the candidates. The committee will consist of city staff, the Public Works Director, one or two council members, plus possibly Ouray School Superintendent Scott Pankow, Rondinelli said. 

Rondinelli has also reached out to the city manager in Durango for input, because he would like to have outside law enforcement involved in the selection process. According to the statement released on Wednesday, the city is also considering hiring an interim chief.  

About 30 community members attended Monday’s council meeting, most of them sitting in tense silence, or standing in the back of the room with arms crossed, throughout the evening’s discussion. But a few came to the podium to speak directly to council about the Police Department crisis, expressing concern about whether Ouray’s law enforcement needs were now being adequately met. 

Lifelong Ouray resident and erstwhile city councilor Joe Kersen voiced the question that hung heavy in the room:

“I would like to know why we are down to one police officer,” he told his former colleagues.

The question got batted from council to staff, and never received a proper answer until the city released its statement on Wednesday.

None of the three former Ouray Police Department employees have come forward to publicly state their own reasons why they quit. 

But the malcontent which has been festering within the OPD can be traced at least to mid-April, when several police officers sent a clear message to the Ouray City Council at a work session with council that they were not at all happy with a new schedule which Chief Rasmusson had recently implemented in the department, on Rondinelli’s directive. 

The schedule change came on the heels of an assessment of the Ouray Police Department, ordered by council and conducted by the independent consulting firm KRW Associates earlier this year, which recommended a number of ways to improve the four-man department’s efficiency and effectiveness. 

These recommendations were presented to council in March by KRW’s Dr. Fred Rainguet. 

“I was operating on the premise we would meet as a city council and review the material, and bring in the PD and say ‘Let’s talk about this,’” Underwood said.

However, days and then weeks went by without such discussion taking place. When Underwood requested that the item be put on the council agenda for discussion, he was surprised to find out that significant scheduling changes had already occurred within the department without full council input. 

“It wasn’t like some malevolent action,” Underwood stressed. “He (Rondinelli) thought he was putting forth an idea that the council supported.” The statement released by the city states that the schedule change was implemented “with feedback from the City Council and direction from the City Administrator.” 

The crisis at the Police Department, and the way that it has been handled, shines a light on the fact that the City of Ouray’s Home Rule Charter, adopted by Ouray voters in 2009, grants the city administrator “full supervision and control over all city personnel and departments,” as well as the authority to “implement personnel rules and regulations for city employees.” (Ouray Home Rule Charter, Article V) 

“There’s a certain amount of supposition among the electorate that, you (the council) are in charge,” Underwood said. “But the way the charter is written, council is in charge of setting policy and budget. That’s the extent of our authority.” 

Meanwhile, on Tuesday this week, Ouray County Sheriff Junior Mattivi spent the day exercising his own authority by covering for the short-staffed Police Department, parked in his squad car on Main Street to make his presence known. 

Addressing community concerns about a potential lag in response time for his deputies who live outside of Ouray County, he said that he himself will be on call during those times when one of his deputies contracting with the city goes home. “There will always be somebody in the city itself, and there will be a normal response time,” he stressed. “I don’t see that as a huge problem.”

Mattivi’s biggest worry at the moment is preventing burn-out as his own department shifts into high gear for the onslaught of summer. “We need to work out a schedule between Justin and our department so everyone gets their time off,” he said. “If we start burning people out, that will not be a good thing.” 

 

swright@watchnewspapers.com or Tweet @iamsamwright

 

Full Transcript of Statement Issued by City of Ouray on Wednesday, May 22.

The Ouray Police Department is experiencing a transition of leadership but the priority of the City is to ensure the public safety of its citizens and visitors to our community. The resignation of the Police Chief last week and the subsequent resignation of other officers indicate the need to immediately begin the process to recruit a new chief and to fill the other vacancies in the department. This process is underway and the plan is to involve the City Council, members of the community, professionals from other communities, and other City staff in the selection process. 

The City Council previously authorized an assessment of the Police Department to determine the most efficient and effective operating practices (the report is available on the City web site). The assessment concluded that the existing schedule did not allow for proper trainings, range qualification, team meetings, and oversight. Officer complaints of fatigue and time away from family, even with the schedule allowing for four days off each rotation, were noted. Under the existing schedule, officers were working 1,840 hours annually, which is 240 hours below the normal 2,080 hours annually of a full-time employee. A recommendation in the assessment was to shift to a four day work week with a three day break versus the 4 days on/4 days off that had been utilized over the past decade. This change would maximize coverage, allow the men to work together one day a week, train (which they had been challenged to keep up with), and complete work that is complicated by having only one man on duty at any given time. It would also allow for flexibility in the schedule to explore alternative patrol methods and increase traffic enforcement. With feedback from the City Council and direction from the City Administrator, the Police Chief was instructed to implement the schedule. 

Three police officers expressed their protest about this new schedule at a work session with the City Council that resulted in a decision to operate under the new schedule for a trial basis of two months after which time it would be assessed. The Police Chief reported a reduction in the department’s productivity performance indicators. Many rumors circulated, including that the three officers planned to quit together in protest, leaving the town without a force. 

In the past week, the Chief was asked for and gave his resignation, and two of the three remaining officers resigned. Although their actions demonstrates a disregard for the City’s duty to provide for public safety and welfare, the City wishes each of these men the best in their future careers. 

During this transition period, the Sheriff’s department will immediately provide coverage for the City as three of the Sheriff’s deputies have stepped forward to commit additional hours in service to the Ouray Police Department. These deputies will be working solely for the City of Ouray during their shifts on the department. Nearby communities have also offered assistance, and the possibility of bringing in an interim chief to assist from another force during the transition is being explored. 

The work to build the department from the ground up has begun. We look forward to moving forward and putting these recent events behind us. During this transition, the public should be assured that public safety remains our highest priority. Please do not hesitate to contact us with your questions and concerns. 

 



PUBLISHED ON MAY 21 at 7 a.m.

Another Cop Quits Ouray Police Department

OURAY –
The exodus from the Ouray Police Department that began last week with the resignations of Police Chief Leo Rasmusson and officer Tony Schmidt gained new momentum on Monday evening, May 20. Moments before that evening’s regularly scheduled Ouray City Council meeting went into session, OPD officer Chad Rilling handed his badge and a resignation letter to Councilor Michael Underwood and walked away, leaving the beleaguered department with just one officer. 

Rilling’s resignation is effective this Wednesday, May 22, the same day Schmidt’s resignation goes into effect. Rasmusson’s resignation went into effect when he “handed in his retirement papers” on Tuesday last week. 

Justin Crandall, the sole remaining officer to remain in the department, spoke at Monday’s Ouray City Council meeting, announcing that some basic services provided by the department may be curtailed for moment, including VIN inspections and fingerprinting. 

Crandall said he will be prioritizing calls as they come up, with an emphasis on criminal cases. “I cannot work 24/7,” he said, “but I will be patrolling as much as possible.” 

Crandall, who joined the department two years ago and was until this week the most junior member of the four-man department, asked for citizens’ cooperation in “keeping their eyes open for things,” as the city works toward filling the vacancies left in the wake of the recent exodus.  

In the short term, the city has worked out a schedule through the end of May with the Ouray County Sheriff’s Office, hiring off-duty sheriff deputies as contract employees to help meet the City of Ouray’s law enforcement needs. 

“We hope to deal with other issues the department has, especially getting officers hired, as quickly as possible,” Crandall said. 

The department vacancies will be advertised starting this week. The police chief position will be open for three weeks, and the officer positions will be open for two weeks. Depending on the volume of responses, a hiring committee will form to evaluate the merits of the candidates. The committee will consist of city staff, the Director of Public Works, up to two council members, plus possibly Ouray School Superintendent Scott Pankow, City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli said. 

Rondinelli has also reached out to the city manager in Durango for input, because he would like to have outside law enforcement involved in the selection process. 

About 40 community members attended Monday’s council meeting, but few spoke directly to the crisis at the police department. 

O’Brien’s Pub & Grill proprietor Jen Greenholt expressed concern about the diminished police presence on Main Street. That presence, she said, is very valuable. “They do a great job of checking in, and I have the department’s cell to use in case of emergencies. I want to know what the plan is for what we can expect?” she said. “Will I still see police presence?” 

Councilor John Ferguson, who was running the meeting in the absence of both Mayor Bob Risch and Mayor pro tem Gary Hansen, responded that there had been an increased presence from the Sheriff’s Department in downtown Ouray over the past several days. “I’m sure they are doing everything they can. It’s obvious that there is a need for a city to have police,” he said. “We’ll hope for a quick resolution.”

“We need some answers,” owner of the Ouray Comfort Inn and former Ouray City Councilor Betty Wolfe stressed. “I had a 911 call the other day and it never even got a response. I don’t want to wait 45 minutes for a response time. I am very upset it has come to this crisis. We need some answers.” 

(Wolfe clarified to The Watch that the 911 call had been a misdial, but said the fact that there had been no response highlighted Ouray’s vulnerability in case of a real emergency.)

Joe Kersen, who is also a former councilor, voiced the question that seemed to be on everyone’s minds. “I would like to know why we are down to one officer,” he said. 

It is a question that no one in an official position seems willing or able to answer.

“We have to direct that question to staff,” said Ferguson. “From the council’s perspective, per the City of Ouray’s home rule charter, we are not in charge of personnel in terms of hiring and firing city employees.” 

Rondinelli, in turn, said it was a “personnel issue we can’t address. If an employee resigns that’s their choice and they can share that information with whomever they want.” 

However, none of the three who have resigned have publicly voiced a reason why they so precipitously left the department. 

 

swright@watchnewspapers.com or Tweet @iamsamwright

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Ouraypub
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May 21, 2013
Pat offered 30.00 an hour to have the so cover the city.........

They need to get there sh&t together