Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins will seek 4th term

Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins has annouced that he will be running for his position again this November.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Feeling like he has more work to do in office, Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins has announced he will seek a fourth term this November as the county’s top law enforcement officer.

Wiggins said the last four years have been some of the toughest during his 30-year career in law enforcement, and he had been weighing retirement. However, he said people have been calling him encouraging him to run, and he recently got his wife’s blessing.

“I really feel like I’m too young to retire,” Wiggins said. “She’s like, ‘It’s up to you,’ … that put me over the edge.”

Getting support from his family was particularly important after the 2018 campaign, which Wiggins described as “not a pleasant one.”

In that race, Wiggins, a Republican, edged out Democratic challenger Kristin Bantle by just 480 votes in what became a contentious race at times.

Wiggins’ career in Routt County started with the Steamboat Springs Police Department in 1999. He spent about three years with the sheriff’s office as a deputy before returning to the police department, where he led the multi-agency All Crimes Enforcement Team.

This is the fifth time Wiggins will ask Routt County voters for their support, with his first campaign in 2006 falling short to then-Sheriff Gary Wall. But Wiggins beat Wall in 2010 and ran unopposed in 2014.

In announcing his campaign, Wiggins pointed to several achievements and programs he has instituted while leading the sheriff’s office, with several of them relating specifically to mental health.

“The overwhelming majority of people in our jails suffer from mental health issues,” Wiggins said, noting there has been a nationwide discussion among sheriffs. “It’s no secret that up here in Northwest Colorado, there was a severe lack of mental health providers and things that we could do to help people in jail.”

Wiggins said he has helped initiate programs for mental counseling, medical assisted treatment and educational pathways for inmates to help reduce recidivism. His deputies’ mental health is a priority as well, Wiggins said, which is why the sheriff’s office partners with local mental health professionals to help deputies cope with the mental and physical challenges of the job.

“The mental health aspect is going to be a big deal for us for the next few years until we get a grip in some programs and some historical data to show what we can do better,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins said he is proud of the diversity in the sheriff’s office with 30% of current deputies being women even after recent departures. Retaining staff is also important, and while recent pay increases will boost morale, Wiggins said a lack of affordable housing remains a barrier to recruitment.

“There’s a lot of different ways to facilitate employee housing, and I think we’re going to have to revisit that,” he said.

Ensuring deputies have plenty of opportunity for training has also been a priority for Wiggins.

Routt County deputies go through more training than the state requires using a training space in the county’s Combined Law Enforcement Facility, which Wiggins help develop as sheriff.

This training is particularly important in Routt County because deputies are often not dealing with the same types of calls over and over, Wiggins said. Training is also a priority because of legislation at both the state and federal levels.

Wiggins said he believes many of these provisions were crafted without appropriate law enforcement stakeholders and are now contributing to rising crime rates in places like Denver, though he hasn’t seen much if any of an uptick locally. He pointed specifically to bond reforms in some parts of the country that allow people to be released without bail.

If reelected, Wiggins said he would want to get more involved in crafting legislation around law enforcement. He has held many positions on the board of County Sheriffs of Colorado, including president, but never on the group’s legislative committee.

“I’d like to get more involved with legislative issues and trying to work with our legislators and our other government partners to create laws that actually work, instead of just feel good laws that have unintended consequences,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins is the only Republican that has announced his candidacy for sheriff. Routt County Undersheriff Doug Scherar and retired Navy pilot Jeff Steck will compete for the Democratic Party nomination.

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