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Four candidates for Carbondale police chief meet with community

Sean Dugan, right, currently the chief of Red Rocks Community College campus police, speaks to community members in Carbondale March 12, 2020.
Thomas Phippen / Post Independent

“Carbondale’s quite the community. I imagine every mayor says that, but it really is unique,” Mayor Dan Richardson said Thursday at an open house with the four finalists for the top job at the Carbondale Police Department.

Retiring police chief Gene Schilling, who’s been with the force since the 1980s, is leaving big shoes to fill, Richardson said.

“Looking at the resumes and what I’ve seen, I know we’d be lucky to have each and every one of you,” Richardson said.

The open house was just one part of nearly two days of interviews and meetings for the four finalists.  Dozens of people attended — though Richardson requested that people not shake hands due to concern over COVID-19.

While only two of the candidates are from the Western Slope, all three have a connection to Carbondale, either as a frequent visitor, or with family living here.

“Looking at the resumes and what I’ve seen, I know we’d be lucky to have each and every one of you,” Richardson said.

In various ways, the four candidates also noted that responsiveness, listening and availability to the community are the most important attributes for the police chief in Carbondale.

Lee Damuth, right, chief investigator for the 9th District Attorney’s Office, speaks with Carbondale Trustee Ben Bohmfalk during an open house for the candidates for police chief March 12, 2020.
Thomas Phippen / Post Independent

Lee Damuth is currently the lead investigator at the 9th District Attorney’s Office. He moved to Garfield County in 2010 and began working with the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department.

“I think the most important trait (for a police chief) is the ability to listen, and manage a variety of views,” Damuth said.

As a member of the planning committee for both Garfield County and the city of Rifle, Damuth says he has experienced the value of civic engagement—and he does not see community involvement as lacking in Carbondale.

Sean Dugan, right, currently the chief of Red Rocks Community College campus police, speaks to community members in Carbondale on March 12, 2020.
Thomas Phippen / Post Independent

Sean Dugan, current police chief for Red Rocks Community College in Littleton, has been visiting the Roaring Fork Valley on vacation (he loves to ski at Sunlight) for years, and now is interested in living in a quieter town.

“I’ve been in Denver since the early ’80s, and it’s just changed,” he said.

A 37-year law enforcement veteran, Dugan lauded the community focus of Carbondale’s police department.

“The department is very community-oriented policing friendly, so I think it’s important for the chief to interact with the community,” Dugan said.

That allows people to approach the officer when they are experiencing a problem, Dugan said.

David Shaffer, right, deputy police chief for Champaign, Ill., speaks with Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson and others at an open house for police chief candidates March 12, 2020.
Thomas Phippen / Post Independent

David Shaffer came the furthest to Carbondale. He’s the deputy chief for the Champaign, Ill., Police Department, where he’s spent 29 years as an officer.

But he has ties to Colorado and frequently visits his daughter who has lived up and down the Roaring Fork Valley and now resides in Aspen.

Ties to family in the region is one reason he’s seeking the Carbondale job. Another is his desire to be more hands-on representing the police department, something that’s difficult in a larger city.

Police chiefs need to be a part of their community, being both open to comments, said Shaffer, who also wants his officers to recognize when something isn’t a police matter.

“I’m a big proponent of relationship-based policing. I want our officers knowing who they serve, and that not everything is a police problem,” Shaffer said.

Rifle Police Department Sgt. Kirk Wilson sits with Carbondale Trustee Lani Kitching during an open house for police chief candidates March 12, 2020.
Thomas Phippen / Post Independent

Kirk Wilson, the other candidate from Garfield County, is currently a sergeant and emergency manager for the Rifle Police Department, where he’s been for the past 17 years.

Wilson said a lot of what he does in Rifle is outreach-based, creating events to encourage disaster preparedness, and is drawn to the opportunity to be the face of the department.

The most important qualities for a Carbondale police chief are approachability, Wilson said, followed by trust.

“Without that, you’re not going to truly know what’s going on in the community,” Wilson said.

The candidates continued interviews and panels with community members, including one panel conducted in Spanish, on Friday.

The town hopes to make an offer to the final candidate later this spring, and have the new chief start in May to overlap with second-in-command Chris Wurtsmith, who will retire mid-summer, and chief Schilling, who will leave the department at the end in September.

tphippen@postindependent.com


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