Dyer ends tenure as Rifle police chief

Ryan Hoffman

Talk to law enforcement officials, both within the Rifle department and outside it, and they will say Rifle Police Chief John Dyer’s most noteworthy achievements as chief are directly related to his ability to become almost instantly ingrained in the community.

“He’s given us direction as far as, if the community wants it, that’s what they’re going to get,” Rifle Patrol Sgt. Kirk Wilson said of Dyer’s community-based approach to policing. “He preaches that. He wants to know what he can do for them and what he can do better.”

This week is Dyer’s last as Rifle’s police chief, a position he has held for almost exactly four years to the date. He is taking a job as the police chief with the department in Lake Stevens, Washington — a move that will bring him much closer to his daughters and grandchildren.

Patrol Sgt. Sam Stewart, a veteran law enforcement officer who has been with the Rifle department since 2001, will serve in an interim role until a new chief is hired, which is expected later this year.

When Dyer came to Rifle in 2012, he stepped into a position held by Daryl Meisner for nearly three decades. Coming to Rifle from Oak Harbor, Washington, which had a population in 2010 more than twice the size of Rifle, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Dyer remembers being told it would take years to assimilate into a small community.

That was not the case.

“He was just a part of the game in terms of the other police chiefs,” said Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, who worked with Dyer in several multijurisdictional law enforcement groups. “He just was very comfortable … like he’d been there for years.”

While many credit him for being able to quickly adjust to life in a new and smaller community, Dyer says it is the people in Rifle who made it possible.

While being recognized at the Aug. 17 City Council meeting, Dyer thanked City Manager Matt Sturgeon for his mentoring, as well as the council for its professionalism and civility. Lastly, he thanked the community for being so welcoming.

“I kind of joke coming to a small community from the outside where people say ‘well that’s going to be tough — small towns … it takes you 40 years (to fit in).’ And from day one I felt 100 percent welcomed and since then I’ve felt 100 percent supported by the community,” Dyer said at the meeting. “So this is easily going to be the highlight of my professional career and I … thank everybody for that.”

In the past, the chief has cited the blue decals that adorn vehicles throughout Rifle, and the broader region, as on example of the community’s support. The “blue line” decals are a sign of support for law enforcement that came about following the death of Mesa County Sheriff’s Deputy Derek Geer, who was killed in the line of duty on Feb. 8.

Dyer, who occasionally contributed a column to The Rifle Citizen Telegram, noted in July, after an attack in Dallas left five police officers dead, that he felt some doubt about whether he could recommend a career in law enforcement to a younger person. Recent interactions between the community and Rifle officers quelled that doubt.

“This past week has reminded me of a training officer I had 32 years ago, who told me I should never shake anyone’s hand while working, as I do not know if their motivation might be to hurt me,” Dyer wrote. “I believe I speak for everyone here when I say that the day I can’t shake the hand of a community member is the day I quit this profession, as it goes against everything we believe in. To any young person out there who wants a profession filled with service and sacrifice for the communities in which we are a part of, I wholeheartedly recommend a career in law enforcement.”

The chief did not hesitate when it came to engaging the community. Along with several law enforcement groups, including the Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team, Dyer previously served as president of the Rifle Rotary Club.

There is a lot that goes into the role of police chief, as Stewart said he is quickly learning in preparing for the interim responsibilities, but Dyer always had the community in mind.

“He’s able to make those connections between us and the community. That’s very valuable,” Stewart said.

In 2014, Dyer created the Rifle Public Safety Citizen Advisory Board, a group of residents who seek to enhance police-community relations, among other things.

One of the early pushes by the advisory board was a desire to see more community outreach — basically a presence in the community outside of service calls, recalled Jay Rickstrew, an advisory board member.

While tight budgets and limited resources can make that difficult to achieve, the department is highly visible in the community, which Rickstrew attributed to Dyer’s leadership.

“I think he leads by example,” he said. “If you look at everything he’s been involved in … I think you know he practices what he preaches, and that’s how it trickles down to the other officers on the street.”

Sturgeon said Dyer is leaving the department in a strong position.

“The police department, from top to bottom, is filled with highly competent, dedicated staff that are very capable of doing their jobs while we seek out the next chief of police,” Sturgeon wrote in an email. “I’m confident Chief Dyer is leaving the city in a safe and steady position as it relates to law enforcement within the city of Rifle.”

The city has retained Fred Rainguet, a private consultant who led the search that led to Dyer’s hiring, to lead the current search process.

In the meantime, Stewart will lead the department. He said he does not know if he will apply for the position once the process reaches that point.

Asked what he thinks an eventual search committee should look for when determining an ideal candidate to lead the department, Stewart gave a straightforward response.

“Find a good leader like John Dyer. That’s what you should do.”

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