Wall’s winch request stalls
Commissioners, sheriff discuss policy questions, impact on towing companies
February 20, 2008
Steamboat Springs — When Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall first talked about installing Sheriff’s Office vehicles with winches, he hoped they could be used to help people. He’s now convinced they could save people’s lives.
During a meeting Tuesday with the Routt County Board of Commissioners, Wall said the purchase of winches is part of his campaign promise to find ways for the Sheriff’s Office to help people, rather than “get” them.
“My whole emphasis is looking for ways to help people,” Wall said. “I think it’s just absolutely essential for us to have that tool for so many situations.”
Winches could be used not only for something as simple as pulling someone out of a ditch, Wall said, but also in life-or-death situations. For example, they could be used to lower someone down a cliff to administer first aid or to free people trapped beneath heavy objects. Wall thinks if the Sheriff’s Office had winches last year, they might have prevented two deaths that occurred after traffic accidents.
“I feel very strongly and passionately about having them on our vehicles,” Wall said. “There are just a million ways we could use them for public safety.”
To purchase the winches, Wall will need the approval of county officials. But little except confusion and elevated voices resulted from an appearance before the commissioners Tuesday. Wall has been after the winches for months, but as his dance with the commissioners has progressed across numerous meetings, the steps have changed little: Wall stresses the value of winches. The commissioners beg him to provide more information. No action is taken.
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Tuesday’s meeting was listed on the commissioners’ agenda as “discussion and consideration to approve the purchase of winches for the sheriff’s office,” but the Sheriff’s Office did not submit a written communication form with information for the commissioners to consider ahead of time.
“We did not get any information on this,” County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said. “We don’t really have anything to work with here.”
Wall and Undersheriff David Bustos said it was the result of a misunderstanding, which caused further frustration on the part of the commissioners.
“We specifically said we needed some idea of policies and direction for how the winches will be used,” County Commissioner Doug Monger said.
The commissioners said their consideration of the purchase also is complicated by the evolving nature of the request. Wall previously requested two portable winches at a cost of $1,675 each to be shared among vehicles. Now, he wants all new Sheriff’s Office vehicles to be equipped with a winch in addition to the two portable winches to be shared by the older vehicles.
Wall said it is problematic to adopt a formal policy for the winches because of their limitless use. He brought Barry Nelson, a law enforcement ranger with the Bureau of Land Management, to Tuesday’s meeting to bolster his argument. The BLM frequently uses winches, Nelson said.
“We deliberately do not have a policy,” Nelson said. “I would caution you not to enter into that. That will limit your officers’ ability to use their discretion. : We don’t even have a policy for carrying an edged weapon.”
The commissioners have raised concerns in the past that the Sheriff’s Office use of winches might hurt the business of private towing operations. Wall and Bustos said they have met with the owners of local towing companies and assured them deputies would use their winches only to tow people to eliminate traffic hazards and other dangerous situations. They said the towing companies are fine with the request.
The commissioners were receptive to Wall’s explanations regarding a written policy and the private companies, but again asked to see them in written form before making any decision on the matter.
“That’s really important, because the public has to have these things in an open and transparent form,” Mitsch Bush said.