Steamboat Springs new police chief brings personal perspective to position
Wearing a black polo shirt and sitting in his office inside Steamboat Springs Police Department headquarters, Mark Beckett seemed at ease after being named the city’s police chief last week following a monthslong interview process and a stint as interim chief.
The at-ease disposition may seem surprising considering how he wound up taking the role as the city’s top cop.
A 21-year law enforcement veteran, with most of his career spent serving on a gang unit, Beckett became a commander for the police department in Steamboat after moving with his family from Mesa, Arizona last year. He was named the interim chief in January following the resignation of the former chief, Sherry Burlingame.
Burlingame, who worked with Beckett in Arizona before taking the police chief position in Steamboat, resigned amid an internal investigation over alleged ethics and policy violations.
For Beckett, taking the reins after his former colleague’s departure was not easy.
“I will say, professionally, it was the biggest challenge I have ever had to face,” said Beckett, a Buffalo, New York native.
However, the professional challenge barely stacked up to what Beckett and his family have faced on a personal level in recent years. His eldest child, Ryan, who identified as transgender, died by suicide two years ago at 14 years old.
“If you really want to know the personal reason for us being here, it is because of Ryan. It is because we want to raise our kids in a place that will value them, and that was not the case where we were,” he explained.
“In the last year, I have just been able to talk about it more openly, but we came here to raise our kids, we came here to be part of someplace that was inclusive,” Beckett said. “I really want this place to be the special place that I think it is.”
Looking forward, Beckett said one of his biggest initiatives this year is making inroads with the local Hispanic community, which he described as being “grossly underrepresented” in the community.
“We have folks from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala. I have talked to a lot of kids from the high school and these kids have come from all over South America, so it is interesting and with that comes complications,” he said.
The department currently employs three officers who speak Spanish, Beckett said. The police chief added that he hopes to transplant an approach he found in Arizona where officers reach out to local underserved communities by meeting them in their own communities.
“Not in uniform. We don’t need to have our guns, we don’t need to look like formal cops, we need to go and be people with no formal agenda,” he said.
Aside from the inroads in the Hispanic community, Beckett said roads, and traffic in general, are another major concern for his department. The police chief reported a spike in traffic-related deaths this year and said traffic citations issued by his department have more than doubled compared to last year.
“Here is the reality,” he said. “The county has had an unprecedented amount of traffic deaths and all you have to do is drive from Hayden to Steamboat in the morning and see the ‘race cars’ cross the double yellows doing 100-plus.
“I think people have a lack of mindfulness about our community,” Beckett said. “We have increasing traffic congestion and people get frustrated. You are driving in from Hayden and get behind a dump truck and you want to get here … you’ve lived here for a while and you know it’s straightaway, so you decide to punch it to 100 mph and go left of center, and you go head-on with someone.”
“Education isn’t working, which is why we went to punitive measures. Now tickets aren’t working, so we need to get the community on board,” Beckett said.
Trevor Ballantyne is the city government and housing reporter. To reach him, call 970-871-4254 or email him at tballantyne@SteamboatPilot.com.
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