Steamboat police seeking help patrolling Yampa River and trails

Editor’s note: This story was changed to reflect that Commander Christina Stewart will oversee community service officers, but is not the supervisor.

Officials at the Steamboat Springs Police Department hope to add two new community service officers to help patrol the Yampa River and trail networks around town.

The River Rangers, who patrolled areas around the Yampa River and instructed visitors of rules regarding the river, have been disbanded. Those duties have been absorbed by year-round, full-time community services officers, who will be overseen by Christina Stewart, who was recently appointed to a commander position.

The community services officers will have the authority to issue citations for municipal and traffic code violations, but will also provide education and community outreach to locals and visitors. Steamboat Police Chief Sherry Burlingame hopes the new positions will help lessen the workload for her sworn officers. 

Police departments across the country, including SSPD, have had difficulties keeping a full staff of sworn officers, and putting candidates through the police academy and field training can sometimes take over a year. 

“Right now, we don’t have the capacity to do any kind of enforcement or patrol along the (Yampa River) Core Trail or with the river, especially during the springtime,” Burlingame said.  

Burlingame said the Yampa River was dangerous this year, especially early in the summer when the water was especially high and moving fast. 

“We had quite a few calls for service of people jumping off the bridge, or there were several rescues that were done,” Burlingame said. “It would have been super helpful for us to be able to have some CSOs trying to prevent the problem from happening initially.”

Burlingame envisions the community services officers working with departments such as Parks and Recreation, playing a sort of center-field position for the city. 

Education will be a sizable chunk of the community services officers’ duties. The city envisions officers who can bring visitors up to speed with safety precautions and eco-friendly practices such as trail safety and etiquette, river safety and the city’s off-leash dog policies. 

“Let’s not wear flip flops,” City Council President Robin Crossan said as an example of something a community services officer might tell visitors. “Let’s not take glass bottles; let’s make sure we have carabiners to hook everything to the raft. We don’t want to litter in the upper river. That’s super important.”

The police department hopes to fill five community services officer positions over the next year. Three vacancies are open now, and SSPD is accepting applications. Those three positions were vacated by officers who decided to work toward earning their credentials to become sworn officers. In early 2023, Burlingame hopes to hire two more community services officers to fill the recently created positions. 

The community services officers would earn between $50,000 and $67,000 a year, according to the job posting on the city’s website. The posting asks for candidates who have strong communication skills, can multitask, handle high-stress emergency situations and exercise compassion and empathy to people in non-emergency and emergency circumstances.

The ability to ride a bicycle is desired, but not required, according to the job posting. During the city’s budget retreat on Oct. 4, City Council approved purchasing two e-bikes to help the community services officers patrol local trails.

Burlingame said the ideal candidate would be someone who likes working in the outdoors and talking to people, and would enjoy a job with variety. 

“You never know really how your day is going to go, which I think is kind of the fun of it,” Burlingame said. “You might be on a traffic accident, then you might be doing a code enforcement complaint or issue, then helping out animal control.”

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