Community profile: New Rifle police officer Haley Walker feeds her love of adrenaline
Officer Haley Walker sat beside her stepmother in a windowless interrogation room just before starting the overnight shift on Thursday evening.
Relaxing her arms, both covered in spiraling tattoos, wearing 45 pounds of gear and a 9-mm Glock pistol, the 22-year-old rookie Rifle Police officer and self-confessed adrenaline junkie recounts a recent call she responded to.
“We had to search a building,” she said, pausing. “It’s a very large, crazy-laid-out building. We got a burglar alarm from it.”
Standard protocol is to treat every alarm as though somebody might be inside, Walker said.
“Because, when you get complacent, that’s when something bad could happen,” she said.
Walker had to accompany her partner and methodically canvas the several doors and aisles interspersed throughout the large, warehouse-like interior, commanding anyone potentially inside to appear and identify themselves.
“It was scary, but it was also fun, if that makes sense,” Walker said.
She’s not even a month on the job yet.
Walker officially raised her right hand before Rifle City Council and took the oath to serve and protect her community on May 19. And, as nearby Chief Tommy Klein and fellow officers cheered Walker’s rite of passage into the Thin Blue Line, Walker’s father, Bob, pinned the shiny badge onto his daughter’s black uniform.
For those who know her, Walker’s transition into law enforcement could be seen coming a mile away. Despite having an innate thirst for thrills, Walker was already putting her skills to use as a dispatcher for the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department.
“Definitely, things that I learned from dispatch have helped so much; like, bringing people from their worst down to a level where I can talk to them and get them to be open to what I’m trying to explain to them and get them to understand enough that they’re a little bit more calm,” Walker explained. “That has helped a lot having that dispatch experience.”
After two years of being the communications lifeline during critical situations, Walker desired something a little more tangible.
“I miss it, but I wanted to be on the street doing the things,” Walker said of her days of dispatch. “And every time something happened, I wanted to be there. And every time someone called out, like in a fight or in a pursuit, like, I wanted to be doing those things, and it felt really hard being just stuck behind a desk and not being able to help them.”
That’s when Walker, born and raised in Garfield County, sent applications to Basalt, Glenwood Springs and Rifle police departments.
After filling out an essay and answering questions asked by three oral boards, Walker was off to the academy. Once she graduated, she’d suit up to represent Rifle’s finest.
There are different segments in the academy required of all cadets, Walker said. It’s like a heavy mix of physical training and hitting the books: learning laws, learning how to apply them in the field.
“You’re doing scenarios all at the same time that you’re learning: driving skills, firearms, defensive tactics and a whole bunch of other stuff,” Walker said. “At the same time you’re learning de-escalation, stress management. …
“We learned some Spanish, which I thought was super important, especially in our community where we have a lot of Spanish speakers. That was invaluable to me.”
Another fun part of police academy: workout-induced exhaustion. One workout includes the use of the 1990 AC/DC hit “Thunderstruck.”
“Every time they say ‘Thunder,’ you have to do a burpee,” Walker reminisced. A burpee is an exercise that involves dropping to your hands, pushing your legs out and standing back up all in one motion. “You would not think that they say (‘Thunder’) that much until you have to do a burpee. … I never want to listen to that song again.”
But the hard work paid off for Walker. She passed academy and is now in the midst of completing four phases of field training, which typically take about 16 weeks.
Once that’s complete, Walker will officially join what she calls her “family” on a full-time basis. Walker, however, has already experienced signs of familial love.
One of Walker’s tattoos is an octopus reaching its tentacles all over her right forearm, which she got from a fellow Rifle police officer who is also a tattoo artist. When she puts her uniform in a department washer and asks one of the female officers to switch it to the dryer for her, they do and — going above and beyond — they fold it.
“I don’t plan on leaving. I love this department,” Walker said. “I feel like this is definitely my family. Like, anytime I feel like if something happened and I needed something, I could reach out to anyone here. … And just small things like that. We can all joke together, and we have meals together. … We have each other’s backs.”
Haley Walker was born in Glenwood Springs and graduated from Grand Valley High School in 2017.
Back then she was always keen on doing everything to the fullest.
“Oh, my god, she was a perfectionist,” Walker’s stepmother Vickie Havens said. “She would give herself ulcers because she got a B-plus on an assignment. So she just always had to be the best and always had to help everything.”
Mom, do you need help doing the dishes, Walker would always ask Havens. Do you need help folding the laundry? The boys are driving me crazy (Walker has three brothers), can we lock them outside?
She was willing to help at every turn. Well, almost every turn.
“I did get a tattoo when I was 17,” Walker said.
Without permission, to boot.
“She went behind our back and, you know, kind of manipulated the situation,” Havens said. “We weren’t exactly happy about it.”
But what could you expect? Not only did Walker persevere with flying colors through the presence of three brothers, she grew up hunting and learning how to shoot with her father, Bob.
A mechanic who spends his time tinkering with and restoring a 1972 GMC pickup truck, Bob is Walker’s rock. When Walker, a self-described insomniac, isn’t playing video games or enjoying the outdoors, she’s helping her father bring his classic truck up to snuff.
“If he ever picks a shade of blue,” Havens quipped.
The truck project has existed for the past six years, but Bob’s sharp ears have been there forever. It doesn’t matter if Walker’s having a bad day.
“My dad’s not great at talking about things like that, but he listens,” Walker said. “And, sometimes, that’s all you need, is someone to listen.”
When Chief Klein asked Bob to pin the badge on her daughter’s uniform last month, Havens was simply amazed.
“That was great, you know? To see all of that. And the department came out and everyone came in to support Haley in that,” she said. “Even her mother and her side of the family, you know, came out to support her.”
Everyone will always be there for Walker no matter where her life takes her, Havens added of the family.
“(Walker) was going to be a nurse at some point, and she changed her mind,” she said. “She was going to try and be a Marine — she changed her mind. I mean, she’s a strong-willed individual. When she wants something, she goes.”
This holds true for her current line of work.
If Walker’s doing her job and everything she could on any given day, then she’s done exactly what she’s supposed to do.
“I wake up every day before I come to work and put on my game face,” Walker said. “And I did the same thing at dispatch. And I do everything that I can every single time, even if it’s just giving someone directions — super small things. For some people, that makes their entire day.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or email@example.com.
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Police were able to de-escalate an incident involving a man who was brandishing a gun at the Carbondale Days Inn Tuesday afternoon and place the suspect under arrest.