Birch taking new road in life |

Birch taking new road in life

Hayden resident Ray Birch was sworn in Monday as the town's police chief. He replaces Jody Lenahan, who retired in October.

— Ray Birch’s airport security clearance badge puts him at 5’10”, 210 pounds, with hazel eyes and bald hair.

It’s an accurate description, but the bald comment had Birch thinking one of his Hayden police officers or someone at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport was trying to give Hayden’s new police chief a hard time.

“Yeah. Real funny,” Birch said. “Typical cop stuff.”

Birch, 49, was sworn in as Hayden’s newest police chief and started his new job Monday. He replaces Jody Lenahan, who retired Oct. 6 after being chief for 27 years.

“Part of me wants to get busy and make decisions, but common sense tells you to take in as much information as you can,” Birch said Tuesday at his new office in Hayden Town Hall.

He has a little catching up to do.

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“There hasn’t been anyone in this position in a couple months so the routine paperwork is stacked up,” said Birch, eyeing a stack of policy manuals, schedules, police reports and call logs.

Birch, who lives in Hayden with his family, cut his commute time to almost nothing by taking the chief position. His last day as a patrol sergeant at the Steamboat Springs-based Routt County Sheriff’s office was Sunday. Birch, who was unsuccessful in getting the Republican nomination to be the county’s next sheriff, said he enjoyed his work at the Sheriff’s Office, and considered the chief job a good career move.

It’s a big change though, Birch said.

“I don’t think there will be a change in pace,” he said. “It’s going to be just as busy, but it’s a lot different.”

It likely will never take him more than a couple of minutes to respond to a call, and he will not be looking for lost hunters any more. Now he is in charge of an entire department, and even in Hayden, you have to be ready to respond to the most severe calls, he said.

“You have to prepare and train for those types of calls,” Birch said.

Birch held his first staff meeting last night with the town’s police officers.

“We have a core group of officers who have been here a long time,” Birch said. “We don’t go through officers like other departments do.”

Although Birch said he wants to learn as much as he can before making changes, he has an idea of where he will start.

The police department’s policy manual is outdated and needs to be revised. Areas such as police uniforms and grooming need to be looked at, he said.

“A real exciting thing is the potential for building a new police station,” Birch said. “It really does instill a sense of pride for the officers and the community to have our own police station. It kind of shows us where we are going.”

Hayden Town Manager Russ Martin said having a new chief will be good for Hayden. It also is stress relief for Martin.

“I went yesterday without having my phone on my hip all day,” Martin said. “That’s now Ray’s job.”

Martin said he expects a smooth transition, and the officers will be able to learn a lot from Birch.

“What he has found and what I’ve been very pleased with is that our officers have handled this transition with the most professionalism,” Martin said. “Someone like Ray will be great for the community and the department.”