2020 Locals’ Choice: Glenwood Springs’ favorite community policeman
Since 2003, Glenwood Springs Police Department Lt. John Hassell has won the Locals’ Choice award for top cop five or six times — he’s not sure.
Hassell is also not sure why the community keeps nominating and voting for him.
“Honestly, there are 20 other officers that work just as hard I do, that are as much deserving of this as I am,” Hassell said.
If he had to guess why he won the 2020 Locals’ Choice award, he’d say that it’s partially because of his community-facing role.
Former Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson, the 2019 Locals’ Choice winner, isn’t surprised at Hassell’s return to the top of the top law enforcement officer pedestal.
“He’s the epitome of what we want in a police official in our town. He’s very compassionate, very intelligent, very people-oriented, and he’s one of the most outstanding family men that I’ve ever known in my life,” Wilson said.
Hassell grew up in Detroit and moved to Colorado for the same reason as so many others.
“As soon as I finished college, my wife — then-girlfriend — and I decided to move to Colorado to have outdoor life and ski,” Hassell said.
After the police academy, he and his wife Sarah moved to Glenwood Springs in 1996 where he got his first job in law enforcement as a patrol officer.
Police work was a natural fit for Hassell. His brother was an officer in Detroit where they both grew up, and his bachelor’s in psychology has come in handy, but the main reason he wanted to do police work was to be of service to the public.
For Hassell, community policing is about “being there for the public themselves, to assist with people in their needs — Anyone who’s either a victim of crime, or might need some guidance with family members, health issues, drug or alcohol problems, I can be that avenue for them,” Hassell said.
In his time with the Glenwood Springs Police Department, Hassell has worked in many roles.
After 7 years on patrol, he joined the investigations bureau as a detective for 12 years.
During that time, he became (and remains) the only certified polygraph examiner in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Wilson recalls the polygraph training as one of many times Hassell convinced him of trying something new.
“Johnny found a way to sell me on ideas, new things, things he wanted to try, things that were innovative,” Wilson said.
Large or small, Wilson said Hassell could research ideas, evaluate the benefits and costs, and present the changes in a complete package, as he did with the polygraph certification. Hassell had to be away from the force for several months for training, but it eventually paid off, Wilson said.
“He convinced me that it would be a good thing for us to have. Over the years, because of his research and everything, it became a good tool not just for us, but for the entire region,” Wilson said.
Among Hassell’s proudest moments in law enforcement was the investigation of a 2004 home invasion and stabbing case.
Hassell was charged with the follow-up investigation of the attempted murder of Federico Garcia Hernandez, and in the days and weeks following the incident, old-fashioned canvassing brought a break in the case.
“There was kind of a public outreach for assistance. I literally started going door to door knocking on hotel rooms, and some community members there were able to provide information to lead me to some suspects, which led me to convictions, in the end,” Hassell said.
Now, Hassell is the operations lieutenant for the police department, where he manages the patrol division.
He also gets plenty of face-time with community members, giving trainings to groups and individuals.
“It’s not necessarily a discussion about police work, but it’s just getting to know the community, and them getting to know you as people, as opposed to just a uniform,” Hassell said.
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Multiple efforts have popped up to keep the region’s Latino population informed about the coronavirus crisis and economic aid available for unemployed workers. A special Facebook public group called Coronavirus Aspen 2 Parachute Community Help provides answers to frequently asked questions and directs people to aid.