Steamboat police chief honored for law enforcement improvements
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — During a quarterly update from the Steamboat Springs Police Department before Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday, Chief Cory Christensen received an appreciation award for improving local law enforcement over the last four years.
“Through your efforts, a shaken organization was steadied, staff concerns addressed, confident leadership hired and promoted, all culminating into a quality organization that is respected by the community it serves,” said City Manager Gary Suiter, who presented the award.
When Suiter began his job in 2015, prior to Christensen’s tenure, he said the police department was in turmoil. Former Police Chief Joel Rae had resigned in the summer of 2015 amid an investigation into serious allegations by former detective Dave Kleiber.
“There were allegations of hostile work environments and gender inequities,” Suiter said.
Christensen was the first person Suiter hired when he took over the city manager position in the fall of 2015.
“I took a little bit of grief for hiring a chief of police in a place where I was a newcomer,” Suiter said.
But his decision appears to have paid off.
“He’s one of the most transparent police chiefs I have ever met,” Suiter said.
During Christensen’s quarterly update, he discussed the major improvements and setbacks in local law enforcement in recent months.
In January, he initiated a new patrol schedule aimed at reducing fatigue among officers. They now work seven 12-hour shifts over a 14-day period, which Christensen said is the most efficient schedule for organizations that operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The new system has reduced the amount of overtime by about 500 hours compared to this time last year, according to Christensen. It also makes patrols more consistent by having four officers and a supervisor on duty every day throughout the year.
One concern for him is that the 12-hour shift schedule may exhaust officers during periods when calls for service intensify, such as during the winter months.
“We are keeping an eye on that and trying to evaluate, making sure our officers are getting the rest they need,” Christensen said.
He discussed efforts to improve retention rates among personnel, which have improved by more than 10% since 2017, according to Christensen’s report.
He also identified some areas for improvement.
Chief among them is Steamboat’s lack of a detoxification facility. Currently, intoxicated people whom officers deem to be a risk to themselves or others are taken to the UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.
“People at the hospital say it is taxing on the emergency room,” Christensen said.
He emphasized the need for additional funding to build a law enforcement-specific detox facility.
After a busy summer of concerts, festivals and other large celebrations, Christensen also talked about some of the challenges to ensuring public safety during these events.
“Nationally, there are a lot of attacks happenings in open-air events,” Christensen told the council.
While he does not think Steamboat faces any unique threats to violence, such as mass shootings, Christensen has increased police presence at large, public activities. He said it also has helped to deter lesser crimes, like the open consumption of marijuana during the Steamboat Free Summer Concerts.
“People are less likely to do things they aren’t supposed to if they see a uniformed police officer,” Christensen said.
In the future, he plans to try to improve the police department’s relationship with minority communities within Steamboat. To that end, his agency is planning a CPR class taught in Spanish next year.
Suiter surprised Christensen with the appreciation award during Tuesday’s meeting. About 15 officers also attended.
“It’s rare that I’m speechless, but I was speechless,” Christensen said about receiving the award.
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