Q & A with Kristin Bantle, Democrat candidate for Routt County sheriff
Bio: Kristin Bantle has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Montana, a master’s degree in psychology and communication from Regis University, as well as an associates in criminal justice from West Shore Community College. Bantle spent five years as a social worker specializing in domestic violence and sexual assault cases before becoming a law enforcement officer. She spent 12 years at the Mason County Sheriff’s Office in Michigan where she held several positions — sergeant, detective, child forensic interviewer and hostage negotiator. As a volunteer for many years, she served as president of the board of COVE — Community Overcoming Violent Encounters — in Ludington, Michigan. In 2011, Bantle returned to the state where she was born and joined the Steamboat Springs Police Department where she spent two years as the school resource officer. In 2012, she was awarded the Community Involvement Award. Kristin also taught self defense and is trained in school safety by the I Love You Guys Foundation and National Association of School Resource Officers. She now sits on the board of directors for Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault and is volunteering for Hospice, REPS and the schools.
Q. If elected sheriff, what changes would you make to the department?
A. The one thing I’m not looking to change at the Sheriff’s Office is the current staff. I have worked with many of the current team members and can attest to the fact that they are the glue that keeps the department together. As sheriff, I will provide the necessary leadership to successfully integrate two important public institutions while maintaining their autonomy and improving customer service. I will work to implement outside oversight, begin a new 360-degree evaluation process and publish my performance evaluation completed by the staff of the Sheriff’s Office. I will lead efforts to decriminalize addiction, implement restorative justice programs, end territorial wars and prioritize mental health. I will protect citizen’s constitutional rights and confidentiality. I will incorporate de-escalation training and compassion based procedures to ensure victims of trauma are never re-traumatized at the hands of law enforcement. I will provide research and evidence-based policing procedures to create a sheriff’s office that is approachable, compassionate and fair, valuing the rights of every citizen, deputy and inmate.
Q: What do you consider the single biggest criminal issue in Routt County, and as sheriff, what would you do to deter it?
A. Statistically, Routt County is a relatively safe place to live. Our burglary and violent crime rate is relatively low. As sheriff, I will work to deter all crimes, and I will focus my efforts on criminal issues that we can improve on the most. Sexual assault is in the national spotlight and for good reason. As a mother of two teenage girls, the topic is a stark reminder that our society has a long way to go when dealing with sensitive topics that revolve around sexual violence. Studies show that sexual assault is the number one under-reported crime in the United States … that is also true for Routt County. When canvassing, it’s not uncommon for people to tell me about their experiences with law enforcement when reporting a sexual assault. Unfortunately, a common theme is the feeling of being completely alone and often being re-victimized by poorly trained law enforcement. The trauma associated with these violent crimes is bad enough without fearing the reporting process. As your sheriff, I will improve community safety by encouraging timely reporting of sexual assaults. I will create a safe environment that encourages survivors to come forward through education and ensuring support for all victims, backed by the best trained officers in the state.
Q. School safety is a big issue for our communities. How would you propose to make Routt County schools safer?
A. As an officer that has worked in our schools, I feel they are relatively safe. One of the biggest safety factors we have is a tight-knit, highly trained staff within our schools that value the relationships between one another, the students and the parents. These relationships naturally increase the protective factors and make for a safe, healthy environment. There will always be areas to improve. I will first look to those same professionals to identify those areas and respond to questions and concerns with proven strategies and evidence based solutions. The vast majority of school tragedies are connected to mental health issues. I support the concept of a wellbeing round table that identify at risk youth followed by providing support and wrap-around services that could include social workers, DHS and other appropriate services. As sheriff, I will not delegate these important assignments. I personally will be present as a collaborator, team member and liaison to keep our schools safe. In the event of the worst case scenario, the Routt County Sheriff Office will be trained in the latest, national best practices. The Routt County Sheriff’s Office will be vigilant in collaborating with our fellow law enforcement partners along with staff at our schools. I promise the Routt County Sheriff’s Office will be proficient in their emergency response protocols and the important process of reunification to reduce trauma and begin the healing process.
Q. In your opinion, how has the legalization of recreational marijuana affected Routt County?
A. The legalization of marijuana has allowed our community to replace fear-based tactics with fact-based education. This honest approach allows our community to eliminate misinformation resulting in increased credibility, public trust and safety. This education is being paid for and administered by agencies such as Communities That Care, funded by taxes collected through legal marijuana sales. According to the Routt County Health and Human Services Plan, marijuana sales taxes have funded a 180 percent increase in youth programs since 2014, 81 percent increase in youth participants, and according to the 2017 Communities that Care survey, Routt County youth have a higher level of protective factors. The same study shows a decrease in minor in possession tickets by 78 percent since 2014. In a 2014 article, Denver crime rates have decreased by over 10 percent and there has been a 5 percent drop in violent crime. According to Colorado.gov, these numbers reflect the same decrease in crime in Routt County through 2017(https://public.tableau.com/views/PublicSafety_Arrest-Offense-Court/Story1?%20:embed=y&:showTabs=y&:display_count=yes&:showVizHome=no). In my opinion, the legalization of recreational marijuana has had positive effects on the economy, the reduction of crime and the improvement of education for our youth population, benefiting the community as a whole.
Q. What are the top three challenges faced by the Routt County Sheriff’s Office?
A. Staffing and employee retention challenges; seamless merger of the Combined Law Enforcement Center; and patrol area, scope and scale.
Q. As a follow-up, how do you plan to address those challenges?
A. Staffing and employee retention — the challenge for the Sheriff’s Office is to create an employment package that is competitive not only locally but on a state level. This package starts with the base salary and insurance adequate enough to meet the high cost of living in Routt County. I will maintain the valued benefit of take-home vehicles for the road patrol. As a mom that raised her babies with a gun belt on, I will work creatively to accommodate the needs of young families on my team. It has been my experience that the number one reason for turnover is inadequate leadership. I promise to foster a safe and healthy work environment based on equal treatment, trust and respect. The seamless merger of the Combined Law Enforcement Center begins with communication with listening at the core. I will put emotions and ego aside while prioritizing community first. Leadership is about setting a positive tone when working with fellow collaborators. The new joint facility raises the topic of working well with others to be one of the most important issues when deciding this election. The size of the county — 2,368 square miles — makes patrolling time consuming, costly and potentially dangerous. One of the best ways to deal with these issues is through partnerships. I plan to cross deputize municipal officers so they can respond to citizens within the county. Maintaining the current benefit of take-home vehicle allows deputies to respond more timely to calls throughout the county. I will always seek to leverage technology including the latest GPS, communication and cameras as safety tools required for rural law enforcement.
Q. What is your philosophy of policing?
A. I am a firm believer in the concept of community policing. The U.S. Department of Justice, defines community policing as a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder and fear of crime. There are three essential components involved; community partnership, organizational transformation and problem solving. Community partnerships are apparent in my work history, my collaboration skills and my extensive community involvement. The organizational transformation is highlighted by my letter to the City Council in 2015 as the catalyst for change within the Steamboat Springs Police Department. The working relationship between the police department and the Sheriff’s Office is instrumental to organizational transformation that will improve safety for all community members. Problem solving is essential and requires participation from law enforcement, stakeholders, and citizens. Problem solving begins with communication, specifically listening. All of these elements combined allow for law enforcement to work in a proactive manner rather than reactive.
Q. As sheriff, you would have to work with other agencies. How would you propose to establish and improve working relationships with other departments and agencies?
A. I have never found working in isolation to be productive. Teamwork is essential and in law enforcement can be a life saver. Teamwork in any trade can save money, time and resources. As sheriff and committed community member, I will improve working relationships with other departments and agencies through open communication, being present and collaboration. By developing and maintaining relationships through trust, respect and honesty, I will work diligently to incorporate agencies and departments on to the Sheriff’s Office team. Rather than simply responding to crimes once they have been committed, the team approach can concentrate on preventing crime. By earning the trust of the community, protecting confidentiality and incorporating working relationships with all stakeholders, law enforcement will be better equipped to understand and address both the needs of the community and the factors that contribute to crime.
Q. How do you think the new combined law enforcement facility will affect the way the sheriff’s office operates?
A. I envision a dramatic improvement in teamwork and camaraderie that will translate into efficiencies that deliver a higher level of customer service, with the same amount of resources. The synergy created with the new building and new leadership will be the biggest change Routt County has ever seen in law enforcement. It’s exciting to think about the new building serving as a regional training facilities for all law enforcement. Officers ability to share information and collaborate on important cases has the potential to successfully solve more cases and reduce crime. When comparing statistics based on volume the Steamboat Police Department handles far more calls than does the sheriff. I envision the Sheriff’s Office becoming more involved in assisting with city cases when appropriate. This close relationship will make the already mentioned cross deputizing of City officers an obvious and natural outgrowth of the partnership. I believe the new combined law enforcement facility has the potential to save money and resources while improving services. Most importantly it will improve safety for officers and citizens.
Q. Opioid abuse is a national epidemic and Routt County is not immune from the problem. What can the sheriff’s office do to address this issue?
A. There is no question that we have an opioid problem and I am grateful for community members coming together to address this difficult issue. Thanks to Mara Rhodes and compassionate community members, opioid deaths are on the decline. I applaud those efforts and support their work, specifically the collaboration with the Rx Task Force and the hospital to voluntarily reduce the number of opioid prescriptions in Routt County. The success has had a significant, positive impact that I wholeheartedly support. I believe in fact based education and realize social stigmas can inhibit people from coming forward thus reducing the success rates of these important community collaborations. Compassion based policies, unbiased trainings and de-escalation tactics would be implemented so law enforcement is approachable, resourceful and helpful, especially for tough subjects that others don’t want to talk about. De-criminalizing addiction, prioritizing education along with mental health support are key components to reducing our opioid crisis. As sheriff, I will work with mental health and substance abuse agencies to implement addiction intervention programs within the jail and when appropriate, encourage rehabilitation based sentencing in lieu of incarceration.
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