Oak Creek airs police grievances | SteamboatToday.com

Oak Creek airs police grievances

Residents, businesses start petition citing complaints about increased enforcement

Melinda Dudley

— Disgruntled Oak Creek residents and business owners have begun circulating a petition enumerating complaints against the Oak Creek Police Department, whose “big city” mentality is being blamed for hurting business in their small town.

“The gist of the petition is that the increased law enforcement presence in Oak Creek has decreased the business patronage,” said Police Commissioner Chuck Wisecup. Wisecup and co-commissioner Dave Fisher are scheduled to meet with the town attorney Monday to discuss the petition.

“What they’re claiming is that our presence has hurt business in town, that no one wants to come to Oak Creek,” Police Chief Russ Caterinicchio said.

Colorado Bar owner Becky Elliott, who authored the petition, gathered about 60 signatures by approaching people – and has since acquired four more pages from people who have approached her wanting to sign.

“So many people are complaining about the Police Department, and it wasn’t getting through to anyone that we have a problem,” Elliott said. “Our numbers are down – something has to be done.

“I heard quite a few people saying they’re going around town, taking (Routt County Road) 14, so they don’t even have to worry about being hassled by the police,” Elliott said.

Historically, this is at least the third time that such petitions have been started in town, Caterinicchio said.

“This is sort of normal for some residents of Oak Creek – when they have a police department that actually does something and enforces the laws, they get angry,” Caterinicchio said. “If people are driving under the influence or driving around without license plates, it’s our duty to stop them.”

This week’s public forum to discuss police issues in Oak Creek predates the recent petition, which began circulating about two weeks ago. The Town Board requested the forum, scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, as part of a public outreach and education effort by the Police Department, Wisecup said.

“All members of the community are invited to share concerns and grievances,” Caterinicchio said.

“We have a vocal minority and silent majority that you don’t typically hear from. Hopefully, we’ll hear from both,” Wisecup said.

The Oak Creek Police Department sent out a survey to all residents Feb. 5, to gather information to direct community policing efforts and provide figures for grant applications. The survey asks residents about public safety, including asking them to rank issues of concern, perceived quality of life in Oak Creek and crime prevention measures locals are taking.

“Hopefully, we’ll get some valuable input about people’s perception of the police,” Wisecup said.

Under Oak Creek’s existing complaint process for police, concerned parties can file a written complaint at Town Hall, which is reviewed by the police chief or the police commissioners. Of all complaints received since Caterinicchio came on board last fall, all have been found to be without merit, he said.

“It’s a serious matter, but there’s nothing for my officers to be worried about since they’ve done nothing wrong,” Caterinicchio said. “I haven’t lost a minute’s sleep over it because I truly believe that we do what people want us to do.”

However, disgruntled locals are tired of being subject to “big city” policing, Elliott said.

“It’s not like we have bank robbers and murderers here, but that’s how they go about it,” Elliott said. “We have our problems, but they’re not like the city.”

– To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203

or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com.

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