THE COST OF COURAGE…KEEPING CITIZENS SAFE ON A BUDGET

By Caitlin Switzer

REGIONAL-No, the job is not easy. But here in Montrose, the local police department has the resources it needs to fight crime and keep citizens safe.

“We are very well funded here,” Montrose Police Chief Tom Chinn said. “Occasionally we will get a grant for something, like our bullet proof vests or victim advocate programs, but most of our funding comes from the general fund–we make up about one third of the City’s budget.”

In 2014, the City of Montrose budgeted $5,792,096 for police and for municipal animal control.

The Montrose Police Department currently has around 56 employees, including animal control and support staff, Chinn said. Officers are on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, he noted, covering the 17 square miles that make up the City of Montrose.

“We are out there with the doctors and nurses and everyone else who needs to be,” he said.

The biggest challenge to keeping the peace in Montrose comes from drugs, whether legal, illegal, or prescription, Chinn said.

“Methamphetamine is the illicit drug we see most, but we also deal with prescription, Schedule II drugs like painkillers,” he said. “And alcohol is always a problem, one of our biggest issues.”

With no taxi service operating in town, partiers are well advised to plan ahead and designate a driver, he said.

And though it is no secret that rural police departments tend to lose trained officers to larger forces, there are definite rewards for those who choose to stay. Chinn himself is a lifelong resident of Western Colorado, having graduated from high school in Cedaredge, where his family had orchards and worked in the fruit industry.

“Now THAT is a tough business,” Chinn said. “You don’t just have the weather, you have bug issues–in the 1960’s my family grew a good percentage of Delta County’s fruit–but I wouldn’t trade for that! I love my job–there are good days and there are bad, but is a very good job. We live in a very safe place, and we have the trust and respect of the people.

“Montrose is clean, and some of the best people in world are living right here.”

In Delta, belt tightening has resulted in a more efficient police force, City Manager Justin Clifton said.

“I feel good about our budget,” Delta City Manager Justin Clifton said. “We are running with one fewer officer than we were two years ago.  We’ve reduced our overtime costs by about $100,000 over the last few years.  This has certainly presented some hardship on the department.  But I’m proud of how our staff has responded.  Leadership within the department, including the Chief of Police, has taken shifts on patrol when we’ve been short-handed.  They’ve all done more with less to help us be more efficient with tax payer dollars.”

Local police officers, in many cases, can expect higher salaries in 2015, Clifton said.

“A wage survey the City completed this year revealed that many of our uniformed officers were paid below the market rate,” he said.  “Going into next year we will be adjusting all of those salaries.  We would not have been able to make those adjustments without the hard work within the police department and throughout the City to be more efficient and cut unnecessary costs.  I’m proud that we are able to use the savings from that hard work to take care of our employees and pay them what they deserve.  We created the solutions to our problems without simply spending new money.

“I trust our department to keep this community safe and I admire the job they do every day.”

In 2014, expenditures budgeted for Delta’s Police Department were $1,736,352.

According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s Crime in Colorado web site, which reports agency statistics from across Colorado, in 2013 the Montrose Police Department dealt with 759 offenses including 163 assaults, 79 burglaries, four robberies, 495 instances of larceny and theft, 14 motor vehicle thefts, three cases of arson, and one rape. Also in 2013, the Montrose County Sheriff’s office dealt with 335 offenses in 2013, including 153 assaults, 64 burglaries, 99 instances of larceny and theft, 14 motor vehicle thefts and five cases of rape.

The web site also notes that the Delta Police Department dealt with 520 offenses in 2013, but notably saw 16 cases of rape. The Delta County Sheriff’s Office dealt with 139 offenses in 2013, half of which were cases of larceny or theft. No statistics were reported to CBI from Ouray County law enforcement agencies.

In Grand Junction, the police dealt with 3,341 offenses, including two cases of murder/manslaughter, in 2013, while the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office handled 1,619 offenses.

“Yes, we do lose a lot of good people to larger places,” Chinn said. “But that’s just part of the business. We’re doing very well here.”