Idea of police unification raised in Routt County
Steamboat Springs — Some community members are asking their elected officials to consider merging the Steamboat Springs Police Department with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office.
Ed Miklus, a former school superintendent from New Jersey, raised the idea earlier this month when Routt County commissioners met with the Steamboat Springs City Council to discuss the prospect of sharing facilities or having a joint public safety campus in west Steamboat.
The city is planning to build a new police station, and the sheriff’s office is also in need of more space.
“I would open it up one more step and say why don’t we look at a unification of the Steamboat Springs Police Department and the County Sheriff’s Office, a regionalization of our policing facilities under one umbrella, the sheriff,” Miklus told the council. “I don’t see any downside in doing some preliminary due diligence of the unification of the two departments.”
Miklus said there would be benefits to unification, including eliminating redundancy of services and increasing efficiencies.
He provided the council and commissioners with a USA Today article describing the success the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake.
Aside from Miklus’ recent public comment and a pair of letters to the editor on the topic in previous years, the city has not received much public commentary on the idea.
However, Miklus’ suggestion did spur some elected officials and the city’s police station building committee in recent weeks to have brief discussions about the concept of unification.
Council member Walter Magill said the idea was new to him and the council, and he suggested he’d be open to some research on the topic.
Routt County Commission Chairman Doug Monger also said he’d be open to having a conversation about providing law enforcement services to Steamboat, but he cited struggles the county already has had with providing law enforcement to outlying communities, including Oak Creek and Yampa.
The citizens police station committee put the topic on its latest meeting agenda, but decided at the meeting the topic was beyond the scope of what the group has been charged to do.
One committee member asked Council President Bart Kounovsky for his thoughts on the topic.
Kounovsky pointed out the council has received public comment from one individual about unification, and it would require consensus from both the city council and the county commissioners, along with a push from the community.
Unification “to me is a whole different discussion that may or may not take on a life of it’s own,” Kounovsky said.
Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume and Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta, who were in Steamboat on Monday to discuss how they share a facility in Craig, also offered some opinions on the topic.
Vanatta said he felt that unification saves money, but not as much as one might think.
He said the city council also would have to consider that an elected sheriff’s priorities for law enforcement in a city could be different than the council’s priorities, and things like providing officers for community festivals and special events could be affected under a unified police force led by a sheriff.
“There have been some success stories with consolidations, and there have been some disasters,” Vanatta said.
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