Sheriff Vallario stands behind 8-year record
Incumbent Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario considers himself neither an “empire builder,” nor “arrogant,” as some of his critics have branded him.
“I prefer to look at it as, something needed to be done to respond to the needs of a growing county, and we accomplished it,” Vallario, the Republican candidate seeking re-election on Nov. 2, said of excessive spending claims by his opponent’s camp.
As for those who say he’s arrogant and unapproachable, “They might be misconstruing confidence with arrogance,” he says. “I see it as being confident, and doing my job.
“As the head of the largest law enforcement agency in the county, people expect me to make tough decisions,” Vallario told the Post Independent in a recent interview. “I see it as being confident and standing behind those decisions.”
Vallario harkens back to the 2002 election when he agreed to challenge then-incumbent sheriff Tom Dalessandri, who had also spent eight years in the office. Dalessandri, a Democrat, is now challenging Vallario to win back his former post.
“There was a strong sense among people that they were dissatisfied with the Sheriff’s Office and the services it was providing when Tom was here,” Vallario said. “I wanted to change that and make a difference, so people could be proud of their Sheriff’s Office. I think I’ve done that.”
Vallario grew up in the Denver suburb of Lakewood and attended the law enforcement training academy in Golden before relocating to Glenwood Springs in the late 1980s.
He soon joined the Glenwood Springs Police Department as a patrol officer, worked his way up to sergeant, attended the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Task Force training, and eventually spent seven years as the second-in-command under Glenwood Police Chief Terry Wilson.
He ran for sheriff in the November 2002 election and won, and was unopposed for re-election four years ago.
This election year has been different, though. Not only does Vallario face a general election opponent, he narrowly won the Republican nomination in the Aug. 10 primary over challenger Doug Winters. Winters has since agreed to be Dalessandri’s undersheriff should he win next month’s election.
Vallario counters the criticism, saying his focus for the last eight years has been to implement the kinds of public safety and crime prevention programs citizens have requested.
He also said he’s had to grow the department in accordance with a county that has seen a near 30 percent increase in population during the last decade.
He defends programs such as the inter-agency All Hazards Response Team (AHRT) and the county’s 2008 purchase of the $236,000 BearCat armored vehicle to support that effort.
“This was all something that came about with funding that became available through the Department of Homeland Security,” Vallario explained. “We met with the area chiefs of police and decided that we needed to be responsible for our own incidents here in Garfield County.”
The AHRT includes training for officers to respond to everything from a hazardous materials spill and police incidents that may require extra protection for the officers involved, to hostage situations and even terrorist threats, he said.
“It’s less about wanting to use that kind of force, but having it available to us in case we need it and making sure our officers are protected,” Vallario said.
“And, it makes no sense to dismantle something that works,” he said of those who question the need for such a program in Garfield County.
He’s also had to defend the decision to build the more than $3 million sheriff’s office annex in Rifle, which was completed earlier this year.
“That is something we determined was needed on the west end of the county as part of the five-year plan that was approved by the county commissioners,” Vallario said. “And it was driven by the fact that we were seeing a lot of growth on that end of the county.
“That growth has stabilized, yes, but I’m confident we will see that growth curve again,” he said.
It was actually because of the economic downturn that they were able to bring the project almost $300,000 under budget, he noted, due to the fact that they were able to obtain more competitive construction bids.
Vallario said that much of what the sheriff’s department and the county as a whole was able to do was a direct result of the economic boom that hit about the time he took office.
He acknowledged that, with an expected decline in county property tax revenues over the next couple of years, sheriff’s department cuts may be necessary. He also said the politics stops once the election is over, at least as far as he’s concerned.
“I’m not a politician, I’m a cop,” Vallario said. For more about Lou Vallario’s campaign, visit http://www.vallarioforsheriff.com.
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