Steamboat Springs city manager says culture at police department is ‘not broken’ |

Steamboat Springs city manager says culture at police department is ‘not broken’

Interim Chief Mark Beckett promotes longtime police Sgt. Rich Brown to an interim commander position

After the recent resignation of two women in positions of power at the Steamboat Springs Police Department, City Manager Gary Suiter assured City Council there is not a culture problem at the department.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Steamboat Springs City Manager Gary Suiter asserted to City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 7, that the culture of the city’s police department is “not broken.”

“(Members of the police department) want the public to know, and I wanted to repeat their message to the council and to the public, that they are a solid team of professionals,” Suiter said. “Their culture is not broken in the department. … They care deeply about this community.”

City Council did not discuss the departure of former Police Chief Sherry Burlingame during council’s first meeting since the staffing change, but Suiter said council members have indicated to him full support for his decision to fire the police chief.

The Steamboat Pilot & Today reported this week that Burlingame resigned from the position before her termination became effective.

Burlingame, as well as former Support Services Division Manager Christina Stewart, who was also set to be fired, told Pilot & Today that the situation stemmed from larger culture issues inside the department, specifically with how women are treated.

However, Suiter asserted in an interview on Wednesday, Feb. 8, that the department’s culture is not an issue.

“I have confidence and trust in the staff, and I trust that if there are issues, they’re going to come forward and let us know if there are issues, cultural issues, in the department,” Suiter said. “I told them last week it’s incumbent on them to come and tell us. They came and told us in mid-December, and I moved on it.”

Suiter said Interim Police Chief Mark Beckett has restructured the department’s leadership by promoting longtime Sgt. Rich Brown to interim-commander.

The department will also bring back David Pearson temporarily in a commander position. Pearson, who is a former police lieutenant from Fort Collins with more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, temporarily joined the department last year and is now starting another eight-week contract in Steamboat.

“When (Beckett) told me he wanted to promote (Brown) to commander, give him a chance in a command position, and then bring in (Pearson) from Fort Collins to help mentor him and so forth, two thumbs up,” Suiter said. “They were very responsive in putting the command structure back in place.”

Allegations that the department has cultural issues have been levied before. In 2021 the city settled with former police Commander Annette Dopplick, which required the city to investigate complaints she made and the general working conditions for women.

Suiter said that investigation didn’t turn up cultural issues. That investigation included an anonymous diversity, equity and inclusion survey, which Suiter said didn’t turn up anything significant either.

“Just not much there in terms of cultural issues,” Suiter said. “We have a tight-knit group over there. … If there are deep entrenched issues, I would have heard about it.”

While he said firing an employee is rarely easy, Suiter isn’t second-guessing his decision in Burlingame’s case. He said both he and members of the police department are disappointed with how things turned out.

“Disappointment that we’re back to square one,” Suiter said. “Conventional wisdom would say if there are legit gender issues or cultural problems in any organization, that bringing in a woman in a leadership position would be able to come in and identify that and take care of those. Disappointing it didn’t happen.”

Suiter said the city plans to use a similar process to find the department’s next police chief. Because of Steamboat’s governmental structure, this process is solely Suiter’s decision, and City Council would only weigh in if a search started to consume more of the budget than planned.

This search will include three committees: a citizens’ group, a group of law enforcement professionals and another group of city leadership.

The city still needs to draft a proposal for an outside consultant to conduct this search. When the process gets started, Suiter estimated it could take between four and six months to find a new chief.

“(I have) full support from council,” Suiter said.

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