Former Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins looks back on 12 years in office

Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins poses for a photo inside the Routt County Sheriff’s Office earlier this year. Wiggins served 12 years as sheriff but lost his bid for reelection in November.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

As former Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins passes the torch to his successor, Doug Scherar, Wiggins took time Monday, Jan. 16, to reflect on his career in Routt County.

A graduate from the Lively Law Enforcement Academy in Tallahassee, Florida, Wiggins joined the Steamboat Springs Police Department in 1999. He then worked as a deputy for the sheriff’s office for three years before returning to SSPD to lead the multi-agency All Crimes Enforcement Team.

First coming into office in 2010, Wiggins served 12 years as sheriff. A few years into his term, he sought to improve the quality of training and related facilities for Routt County sheriff’s deputies. 

“My goal was to bring the training program to the next level,” Wiggins said. “At the time, we didn’t even have a place to train; we were always searching for a venue.“

To address the issue, the sheriff’s office built and designed a new training facility at the justice center. It has the capacity to train as many as 54 people at one time.

“Now we are able to conduct district-wide training for not only our department, but every department in the district,” Wiggins expalined. “Different training organizations come in, and we sponsor and provide them with a venue. In return, we could get two or three slots of free training. So, whatever the training was, we could send two or three of our deputies to get them more experience and qualifications.”

More recently in 2020, Wiggins remodeled the Routt County Sheriff’s Office payment plan. The new plan looked to motivate deputies by providing raises for accomplishments and performance, rather than their time in the position.

“The 11-step payment scale program in place was not based on skill level or performance,” Wiggins said. “If the employee kept their job, they got a pay raise — it didn’t matter if they were a high achiever or just barely met expectations.”

But Wiggins said he didn’t agree with that policy and believed that employees should be rewarded for their work.

“So I developed what is called the skill performance plan, and it was based on a five-year increment, going from starting pay to max salary,” Wiggins said. “It was all based on accomplishments and skill level. I put a lot of time and effort into this, and made it to a level where an individual had to accomplish certain things throughout the year. They had to go to certain training and obtain certain certifications, and if they met the requirement, they would automatically move onto the next level.”

In addition to this, Wiggins aided in initiating programs for mental counseling, medical-assisted treatment and educational pathways for inmates, all in an effort to try to break cycles of reoffending.

Wiggins has passed the torch down to his coworker of 20 years after Wiggins lost this November’s Routt County sheriff’s race, a contest in which both candidates strived to remain civil and avoid controversy.

On the campaign trail, Wiggins emphasized the importance of prioritizing mental health in the prison system, and he championed the sheriff office’s efforts to diversify the workplace with 30% of deputies now being women. 

“One of my goals if reelected was to be more involved with the legislative process around law enforcement,” Wiggins said. “It would be great to see Doug Scherar do so at some point in his career. As a new sheriff, he will have a lot on his plate at first, but a ways into his term, it would be great to see him participating in the legislative committee of the County Sheriffs of Colorado.” 

While Wiggins said that the sheriff’s office is a fairly well oiled machine, he emphasized the importance of adaptability for anyone taking on the sheriff’s role. 

“We live in a period where there’s always change,” Wiggins said. “We always need to be willing to evaluate what’s going on, what’s working well, what’s not working well, and be willing to make the changes necessary to maintain a high level of service.”

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