Moffat County law enforcement leaders tout shared public safety facility

Scott Franz

— Leaders of the Routt County Sheriff’s Office and the Steamboat Springs Police Department will meet with Steamboat’s police station planning committee Monday morning to discuss the prospect of the two agencies sharing space in a new public safety facility.

As the police station committee works to find the best option for a new police headquarters here, it is considering the idea of a shared facility or a joint campus on the west end of town next to the sheriff’s office and the Routt County Jail.

Some committee members are pointing to the success of a shared facility in Moffat County as a reason to explore such an arrangement here in Routt County.

In recent months, Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins has expressed strong support for shared facilities, while city management and the city’s top police officials have appeared skeptical of the idea.

According to a summary of a private meeting city officials had with county officials in late March, City Manager Deb Hinsvark and Police Chief Joel Rae told county officials that “In the end, if the city found areas to share in its current programmed campus, it would be 400 square feet — the workout area.”

Police station committee members in recent weeks have sought to research the possibilities and come to their own conclusions.

Last week, a committee member took a field trip to Craig to see firsthand how three law enforcement agencies in Moffat County work side by side under the same roof.

A nearby example

When the Moffat County Public Safety Center was completed nearly 15 years ago, Undersheriff Jerry Hoberg was bullish on what the unique building would do for the community.

“To have all these layers of government come together was difficult, but I think it’s a good thing for the whole community,” Hoberg said at the July, 2001, grand opening of the facility that houses the Mofftat County Sheriff’s Office, the Craig Police Department and the Colorado State Patrol. “The departments sharing a building like this, where the officers can work together and exchange information, will really help the law enforcement departments work even more effectively.”

Fast forward to today, and law enforcement officials in Moffat County say Hoberg’s predictions have come true.

As they led a tour of the safety center last week, current Craig Police Chief Walt Vanetta and Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume touted how the building has brought their agencies closer together and resulted in other efficiencies.

As he walked through the halls on the tour, Charlie MacArthur, one of seven community members helping the city of Steamboat Springs plan for a new police station, was wondering if his city could build off the success of what Moffat County has done.

There is more sharing of information in the shared facility, Vanatta and Hume said, and it isn’t uncommon to spot officers and deputies in different color uniforms talking to one another in a break room.

The arrangement also has benefits for the public as well.

When a visitor walks into the building, he or she can turn right and speak to someone in the Colorado State Patrol or turn left and speak to someone in the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office or the Craig Police Department.

A clerical worker for the sheriff’s office works alongside a clerical worker for the police department.

“It’s a one-stop shop,” Hume said. “We’re extremely proud of this facility.”

Built after 10 years of planning and public meetings, voters approved the location and funding for the facility.

On the tour, Hume and Vanatta touted their shared records room, their shared information technology space, their shared armory and their shared evidence processing lab.

Biometric security access pads on doors keep track of who is accessing what at any given time.

“This works extremely well,” Vanatta said of the shared facilities.

Following the tour, MacArthur said what he saw “solidified his view of where I think we should be going.”

Vanatta and Hume didn’t say it would be a slam dunk for Steamboat.

For instance, the men said their facility was designed from the ground up to be shared, and it would be more difficult to replicate the successes if, for instance, a police station was simply built next to a sheriff’s office or added on in a way that didn’t promote sharing.

Hume and Vanatta have also said that the financing and leasing decisions for a shared public safety campus can get political because they must be made jointly by different groups of elected officials.

Pros and cons

The idea of a joint public safety campus in Steamboat has been floated by some elected officials and community members here in recent years.

Asked about the prospect of sharing in 2013, Rae told the city council he feels it is hard to share certain facilities and use best practices, specifically when dealing with evidence.

But Wiggins believes that in addition to a gym, there is as much as 7,000-square-feet of space the city and county could successfully share in the form of records storage, evidence processing and training rooms.

He has estimated there is as much as $2 million worth of shared space that could be realized and save taxpayer money.

“We’ve already got the sheriff’s office, jail and the courts right here. We want to get emergency management and the coroner’s office out here. Just to have the police department here would make total sense,” Wiggins said. “I think it just makes sense to build one roof and have several entities under one roof.”

The city’s top police officials have in recent months advocated for a location that is more centrally located than the west end of town.

They say officers regularly have to return to the station, and there are benefits to having the station in the part of the city from which most of the calls originate.

In addition, Police Captain Jerry Stabile recently told the police station committee that a fear of not knowing whether the police department and the sheriff’s office would have a close working relationship in the same building is another consideration.

The police station committee here in Steamboat will weigh these pros and cons when it meets next week.

The meeting, which will take place at 10:30 a.m. in Citizens Hall, is open to the public.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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