Sheriff Smith tells big crowd Wellington police plan has big issues to solve

Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith drew an overflow crowd of residents when he spoke to the Wellington Board of Trustees at their regular meeting on Oct. 8. The Larimer County Sheriff’s office has a contract to provide police services to the community. The board of trustees is considering a proposal to establish an independent police department for the town of Wellington.

Stating that he wants to make sure the community gets the best value for its police/security spending, Smith presented a number of issues for the trustees’ consideration.

“The process is moving extremely fast from my perspective,” he said, pointing out that he first learned of a proposed independent police department from trustee Jack Brinkhoff in May. By September, he got the impression that an independent police department for Wellington was “a done deal” and would commence in November with the hiring of a police chief.

In reviewing the details of the proposal, he pointed out several items he felt had not been adequately addressed and suggested the trustees look into these issues. There is considerable competition when it comes to hiring police officers. The suggested salary in the proposal is 30 percent below what the county pays. Smith said his department frequently has trouble hiring deputies at their pay scale.

No provisions for overtime coverage are listed in the proposal, the retirement match is far below what Larimer County offers and the establishment of a physical facility needs to be factored into the cost. In order for service to be “seamless,” it would take 5.5 people to provide 24-hour service. The four officers described in the proposal would probably not be enough.

Under its current agreement with Larimer County, Wellington does not pay for officer training time, something that would change if the town were to establish an independent department. Wellington does not pay additional dollars for investigations, which would also be an added cost. Under the current agreement, the county assumes responsibility for any lawsuits that occur.

Smith’s talking points appeared to suggest that an affordable independent police department would not be able to provide the residents of Wellington with the level of service they are currently receiving from the county. The sheriff described KRW, a consulting firm the county uses and suggested the board of trustees consider hiring the firm to help them become familiar with the challenges involved with establishing a town police force.

Mayor Travis Vieira told Smith that the proposal to establish an independent police department was in no way a reflection of the service the community has received from Larimer County. “The service has been great,” he said.

Smith concluded his remarks by saying the trustees could expect some cost increases in their contract with the county in 2014 due to a new records system and modest salary increases in the sheriff’s office.

He told the board that he has noticed a trend away from independent departments by small towns. He offered to customize services to best serve the needs of Wellington and said he is available to participate in trustee board work sessions addressing the police department issue.

At the time of this writing, Wellington had not scheduled the next step in considering this issue.

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