Carbondale seeks grant for detective | PostIndependent.com

Carbondale seeks grant for detective

Ryan Summerlin
rsummerlin@postindependent.com

In response to a rise in crimes requiring significant investigations, Carbondale trustees are looking to add a detective to the police force.

Although the town is anticipating a revenue boost from the incoming City Market, that project is still a couple of years away, and the board will have to figure out how to pay for the new position in the meantime.

Trustees OK’d town staff to pursue a U.S. Department of Justice grant that would provide $125,000 over three years for the new investigator position. Over those three years the town would have to nearly match that money.

Then on the fourth year the town would have to fork over $80,000 to keep that position, as required by the grant.

The need has been apparent for several years, but Town Manager Jay Harrington said he and Chief Gene Schilling have held off on the request because of the four-year commitment. But now, with a recovering economy, they think the time is right for this move.

The first-degree murder case of Arturo Navarrete-Portillo, which just concluded with a conviction Wednesday, is a prime example of the town’s nil investigative resources.

“In this homicide we were way out of our league,” said Carbondale Lt. Chris Wurtsmith. Carbondale police eventually requested that Colorado Bureau of Investigation take the lead on the investigation.

Wurtsmith said the department has requested CBI support in three major cases in the last couple of years.

For the last several years, Carbondale Police Department has been operating without an investigator. So officers take on their cases from beginning to end, and they work the case with the help of their co-workers, said Wurtsmith.

Big cases like this essentially pull Carbondale’s officers off the street, said Harrington. “We’ve had three or four cases over the last couple years that have been giant time sucks.”

Numerous sexual assault cases have also consumed a tremendous amount of time from officers, the lieutenant said.

An officer who’s specially trained in evidence collection is much less likely to make a mistake, he said. “Cases are won and lost sometimes by simple mistakes. I’ve done it myself.”

And the DA’s office won’t prosecute cases without adequate evidence, leading some criminals to evade punishment in Carbondale because the police lack solid investigative capabilities, added Trustee Katrina Byars.

Having to head a case from start to finish can be great for giving the officers experience, but when you consider how much time is being consumed by their other duties, it means fewer officers out on the road, said Wurtsmith. “That’s not what I want to see; I want to see them out in the public.”

In the last six months the police department has also had trouble filling a vacancy, which could soon turn into two vacancies, said Harrington. Finding the money for police officers might be challenging, but so is finding the right candidates for the position.

Wurtsmith said the market for police officers has become increasingly competitive, with many agencies signing recruits up before they’ve even entered the police academy.

If the town does win the grant, the matter would come back before trustees for discussion on where that money will come from.

Trustee Frosty Merriott noted past discussions by the board about getting a new school resource officer. And he’s questioned whether town should continue supplying the region’s drug task force, Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team, with a Carbondale officer.

These questions will all need to be addressed in the next budget process, and the town will have to figure out where to place priority, said Merriott.


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