While many law enforcement agencies across the country have experienced a dramatic increase in anti-cop sentiment, the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office has not — and they say it’s because of how they engage with the public.
Jay Smith of Michigan has lived in 17 states in the last 20 years and says the treatment he’s gotten in Boulder County is better than anywhere else he has lived in the country. The unemployed oil industry worker offered his opinion of deputies while repairing a piece of construction equipment in rural Boulder County.
“They’re stand-up, they’re honest.” He said. “They give you a chance before they’re ready to throw the cuffs on you and haul you in.”
Smith’s comments reflect the public’s general attitude towards the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office. Ask a deputy or a supervisor and they will tell you the Sheriff’s Office still enjoys wide support from the citizens of the county.
Knowing the community
In remote parts of the county, a lone deputy known to the residents as, “Sheriff Joe” has been the face of law enforcement for years. He’s not the Sheriff, but rather Deputy Joe Menger, who 85-year-old Bruce Eller waved down last month as Menger drove past his house.
Eller was concerned and a bit confused about a letter he’d recently received asking for money and personal information — a typical scam nowadays which target the elderly. The letter was complete with poor spelling and non-native use of English. Menger took the letter and called a fraud report in on the radio. Eller was visibly relieved his friend Joe was taking care of it.
“There’s only so much I that I can do.” Eller said. “But him being here on the scene is positive. He’s here doing things for people.”
Deputy Menger declined Eller’s offer to come inside for pie and coffee, but promised he’d be back up the mountain soon to check on him. Eller smiled and waved as Menger continued his 12-hour patrol.
Public offers of support for Sheriff’s Office employees in Boulder County, like Eller’s offer of pie and coffee, have significantly increased in the last several months, according to Undersheriff Tommy Sloan.
“We’ve actually had to relax our gratuity policy a bit.” Sloan said. “So many citizens are offering to buy our deputies a coffee, we’ve allowed them to accept it because the citizens want to show their support for law enforcement at this time of anti-cop sentiment.”
In a county spanning 750 square miles, there’s a lot of ground to cover. According to Deputy Jeff Brunkow, in Boulder County’s mountainous regions, there has been a marked increase in the transient population in the last few years. Brunkow says it can take a while for backup to arrive in some of the most remote areas.
“Backup could be 45 minutes to an hour away.” Brunkow said. “Being able to speak with the people that are up here — in a calming fashion — is definitely helpful.”
“So you just treat them like anybody else.” Brunkow said. “Most of the time, knock on wood, we don’t have any major problems with these guys up here.”
The Boulder County Sheriff Office’s community-oriented policing policy emphasizes reducing problems within communities by identifying and addressing their causes. It’s a policy that starts at the top and is introduced to every one of Sheriff Joe Pelle’s employees by Pelle himself.
A two-hour meeting with Sheriff Pelle is part of the first day of work for each new employee, where they learn directly from him the values they are expected to uphold, articulated in the Sheriff’s Office mission statement.
“I think in many organizations the mission statement lives on a framed plaque on the wall and gathers dust, or it’s painted on the fender of a car but it isn’t necessarily lived.” Pelle said. “Talk to our deputies and they can tell you our mission statement.”
Pelle’s face-to-face, private discussion with new employees about his agency’s mission and values seems to sink in. According to the 2015 supervisory review and internal affairs report produced by the Sheriff’s Office, 38 out of 325 employees were investigated last year for policy violations. Of these, only three involved a violation of policy dealing with the public and resulted in discipline against the employee — in a year with over 48,500 calls for service to the Sheriff’s Office.
“I didn’t just want this to be a program.” Pelle said. “I wanted it to be a culture.”
Police radio chatter
Melissa Linn: Boulder County Sheriff, Joe Pelle talks about what distinguishes his organization from other law enforcement agencies around the country.
Sheriff Pelle: When I became the sheriff one of my first responsibilities I felt was to outline our mission and the vison — how do we deliver our product and the values around that. The missing piece in a lot of places across the county is the character piece.
Pelle: We’ve been through a lot. We’ve been through fires and floods and officer-involved shootings and riots, and the character piece and the transparency, the openness, that’s what’s got us through. We have a lot of respect and support from our customers, our public, as a result.
Linn: We asked Sheriff Pelle to read one of recent letters he received from a Boulder County resident.
Pelle (reading): Hi, I don’t know if you remember me or not, but you pulled me over on the South Saint Vrain Canyon thinking I might be drunk. I wasn’t, so you made sure I got home safely. You followed me. Anyway, as we talked about, I did go to the hospital as you suggested and it turned out I had a brain bleed – a stroke. I feel I owe you so much (Pelle’s voice cracks). I’m doing better each day but spent four days in ICU in Loveland. An ambulance had to take me down. Thought you might like to know how important you were in my recovery. Thanks, Cheryl
Pelle: I get a hundred compliments for every one complaint we receive here, and that’s not an exaggeration.
Pelle: I didn’t just want this to be a program. I wanted it to be a culture.
Citizen: And that’s why Bruce and Linda, we put that ribbon there you know, because we support ‘em.
Mitch Utterback: Oh, you have a blue ribbon on your fence to support law enforcement?
Citizen: Yeah, and we love ‘em, and that’s, you know, that’s what that’s about…
Police radio chatter