CARBONDALE — When Carbondale’s current Code Enforcement Officer, Gretchen Stock-Bell, started her job more than a year ago, she was trained in veterinary medicine but not much else in terms of the job she was expected to do.
“Mostly, it was hands-on,” she said of the training she received, primarily from Police Chief Gene Schilling and a former code enforcement officer, Nino Santiago, who has since been elevated to a sworn police officer.
She admitted to having had some less-than-pleasant encounters with errant dog-walkers and parking violators, and acknowledged that her position may be one of the least popular in the Carbondale Police Department. That is because she enforces town codes on everything from parking and leash-law infractions to crosswalk duty at the intersection of Highway 133 and Snowmass Drive. She also enforces laws on weeds, trash, noise, loose animals, fingerprinting citizens who need their prints for one reason or another, and reading Vehicle Identification Numbers.
But mostly, she said with a wry grin, “It’s parking and animals.”
Stock-Bell has been in the area for 13 years and lives on a ranch in the Old Snowmass portion of the Roaring Fork Valley, where she and her husband are the caretakers for the couple who own the ranch and “spend a lot of their time traveling,” she said.
Stock-Bell’s husband, John Bell, is a supervisor with the Snowmass Village Water and Sanitation District.
She got hired to replace the former enforcement officer, Beth Blake, who moved to Alaska, Schilling said.
He agreed with the assessment that, of everything the police do, parking and enforcement of leash laws generate the lowest amount of public affection.
“People come in here and complain more about parking and dog tickets than they do about speeding cars or anything,” the chief noted with a combination of frustration and humor, adding that perhaps as much as 80 percent of Stock-Bell’s time on duty is spent dealing with parking or animal-code violations.
Stock-Bell recalled one incident in which an angry pet owner was “just very upset, very abusive” over receiving a ticket.
“I had to call for assistance from an officer,” Stock-Bell continued, although the man calmed down and did not have to be arrested.
In fact, Schilling said, there has not been an incident where a dog-violation led to an arrest for about a dozen years, when it happened to Schilling himself.
He said he was at Mountain Fair that year, an occasion where he and his department typically don tie-dyed T-shirts to get in the swing, when he told a man that his dog should be on a leash. The man responded by flipping Shilling the bird, which got him arrested.
“It was for the dog,” Schilling said in answer to a question, “and maybe a little bit for the bird.”
“I’m very polite,” Stock-Bell said of such encounters with hostile scofflaws. “They are not, normally.”
Such situations do not scare her, she said, “but it makes the situation uncomfortable. It’s hard to concentrate on your citation.”
Since taking her $37,000 a year job, Stock-Bell has gone through several training courses, including classes about how to handle a vicious dog (she has not had to make use of that training yet) and on what to do if sent to another jurisdiction that has been struck by disaster, such as a major wildlands fire of the floods that washed over Colorado’s Front Range counties earlier this year.
She also has been trained in defensive, hand-to-hand tactics, though she has yet to find herself in a situation where those particular skills have been needed.
Instead, she said, she has gotten used to being recognized on Main Street, with her tire-marking chalk in hand, and feels safe and secure.
“I feel a lot of it has to do with my presentation,” she explained. “I try to be empathetic and fair,” but at the same time carrying out the policies established by the town.
Schilling said that either next year or in 2015 he plans to send her to the Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy to become certified as a sworn officer, eligible to carry a gun and make arrests.
But unless Stock-Bell wants to get off the parking, dogs and trash beat, Schilling said, she will continue to be the department’s code-enforcement officer, a situation that strikes her as just fine.
“I have to say, I really like my job,” she said.
But when asked whether she would prefer to have a confrontation with a free-roaming animal or a disgruntled human owner of the animal, she said instantly, “Animals. They normally don’t talk back.”