Dinosaur police extinct

Tiny town can't pay officers enough to keep them

DINOSAUR -- Jeremy Hinkle liked being a Dinosaur police officer, but his salary wasn't enough to keep him on the force.

Hinkle and fellow officer Brent Shock left the Dinosaur Marshal's Office earlier this month for higher-paying jobs in Northwest Colorado's oil fields.

When Hinkle and Shock left the force, the town of 320 people near the Utah border was left without any full-time law enforcement officers.

"I was really sad to leave," Hinkle said. "But there are things you have to do to put food in your mouth, and Dinosaur isn't a place where you can do that."

Hinkle had been a police officer in Dinosaur since January 2004, right after he graduated from the academy.

An officer from the Rangely Police Department works here part-time and a state trooper and Moffat County sheriff's deputy patrol the area, but the trooper and the deputy are assigned to all of Western Moffat County, not just Dinosaur.

The town often has no law enforcement officers in the city limits.

Dinosaur Mayor Wendy Petersen said that since 1993, there have been 13 officers.

"Basically, it boils down to dollars and cents," Petersen said. The town can't afford to pay the officers anywhere near what they can earn in the region's oil fields.

This year, law enforcement costs, including salaries, made up almost half the town's $133,000 budget. Officers make about $25,000 annually, without benefits.

Usually the town can afford only one officer, but a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice two years ago allowed the town council to hire a second.

Petersen plans to ask the Department of Local Affairs for a grant to help pay for housing for officers. She hopes offering housing will make officers stay on for longer than a year.

"If you don't have rent or a house payment, it would definitely impact how far your wage could go," Petersen said.

But the low wage isn't the only problem facing the town's police force.

The one-person department doesn't leave room for professional advancement. Petersen said young officers commonly take a job in Dinosaur just to get experience before moving to another town.

Being the only officer is also difficult because all 320 people in town know who you are, Petersen said.

"They're it, whether they're on duty or off," she said. "I believe that's part of the problem."

Officers have very little time to themselves because residents commonly call them during their time off, Petersen said.

"You need your time away, and I know they don't get that," Petersen said.

At the Miner's Cafe on Brontosaurus Boulevard on Thursday, residents weren't surprised that the town was having trouble keeping police officers.

"It's been like that for a long time," said Rich Garcia. Garcia has lived in Dinosaur since 1977.

Garcia's wife, Sandi, said the problems facing the police force are mostly economic.

"They're not able to pay very well," Sandi Garcia said. "They get a job, work for a little while, find something better and leave."

Even without a full-time officer serving the town, the Garcia's and Mayor Peterson said they don't feel any less safe.

"I know I can call 911 and the sheriff's deputy will be there," Petersen said.

But Moffat County Sheriff's Office Cpl. Vic Alton, who is assigned to the area around Dinosaur, said the large area he covers combined with slow, dirt roads means he isn't always close to town.

Alton is assigned to the unincorporated parts of the county around Dinosaur, not the town itself.

"We'll back them up," Alton said of the town's police, but the sheriff's department doesn't watch for speeders along Highway 40 or other minor offenses within the town.

"If something happens flagrantly right in front of us, yeah, we're going to take some action," Alton said.

Since Dinosaur has been without a police force, Alton said he's had to pick up a few additional calls within the town.

"I find myself hanging closer to Dinosaur now," Alton said.

But on days such as Thurs-day, when Alton was transporting a prisoner from Utah to Craig and the part-time officer from Rangely wasn't on duty, the town was left without any law enforcement.

"They definitely need it," Alton said. "You have to have some type of law enforcement."

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