20 years of coppin’: Craig Police Department consolidation talks lead to departure of longtime officer Brian Soper | CraigDailyPress.com

20 years of coppin’: Craig Police Department consolidation talks lead to departure of longtime officer Brian Soper

Sgt. Brian Soper poses with wife Kara in this 2015 file photo.
File photo

Sgt. Brian Soper has spent decades of his life serving as a dedicated Craig cop.

For 20 years, Soper worked Craig’s streets — starting out on patrol and making his way up the ladder to sergeant, after serving some 14 years in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer.

“May would have been 21 years, so just shy of 21 years,” Soper said Monday of his time as a police officer in Craig. “At 30 years, I was going to retire. That was my plan.”

For 15 of those years, Soper was on Craig’s SWAT team and ran it for 10 years.

But earlier this year, Soper decided to retire from the Craig Police Department, taking a job at Colowyo Mine as a haul truck operator.

“Things just kinda clicked,” Soper said of his new job. “They called me. I interviewed. Thankfully, they offered this old man a job after 20-plus years of coppin’, which I didn’t think was possible. But I’m happy with the choice. I have no regrets. I enjoyed my career. I enjoyed working for the city and the department. I had a lot of great opportunities. I made a lot of great friends.

“The people are who I’m gonna miss the most, my coworkers, especially. But I got a new crew. I got a new career, and I’m looking forward to doing the best job I can as a coal miner. That’s what my focus is now.”

But, Soper didn’t hold back as to why he left a gaping hole in Craig’s police force, experienced shoes police administration officials are still trying to fill. Soper said it was the city of Craig’s consolidation agenda, which would have essentially dissolved the entire Craig Police Department by a majority vote of Craig City Council.

Ultimately, the idea was abandoned, at least for now.

The talks centered around Moffat County Sheriff’s Office taking responsibility for policing Craig and Moffat County without reducing the level of service to save the city between $750,000 and $990,000 each year. Soper said the talks prompted at least three experienced officers to leave Craig’s police — bludgeoning morale at the department between 2016 and 2017.

“Between those three, there went another 40 years of experience that will be hard to replace,” Soper said. “After those three officers and the chief left, things kinda died down. I thought the consolidation process or the talks were done. Then, I went on vacation at the end of November, and when I came back on the first of December, that’s when I found out that consolidation was still alive and well, and seemed like it was moving forward.

“The doubt of not knowing whether I’d have a job or not is what made me leave.”

Brothers in blue

Craig Police Chief Jerry DeLong, Capt. Bill Leonard and Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume all three extolled Soper as a model police officer, loyal to the Craig and Moffat County communities and to the people he served.

Leonard, who has almost 40 years at CPD, said he was originally involved in hiring and training Soper, who started with the department right out of the academy.

“Brian was a great guy, a great cop,” Leonard said. “Definitely was one of those that took on the extra step of talking to people, contacting people outside the normal responsibilities of his duty, and trying to help people resolve their issues.”

Leonard offered proof in a story he remembered of an elderly veteran whose fence was partially destroyed after a hit-and-run incident.

“Once it became clear we weren’t gonna find out who took out his fence, Brian went over there on a Saturday — on his day off — and helped rebuild that veteran’s fence for him,” Leonard said.

Leonard recalled how he learned of Soper’s charitable gesture only after the fact.

“In fact, I think it was actually the veteran himself who called and said, ‘Just so you know, your police sergeant came over here and on his own time and his own money, fixed my fence for me and asked for nothing in return,’” Leonard said.

DeLong also sang Soper’s praises.

“He was an excellent officer,” DeLong said. “He got along well in the community, and he treated everybody fairly that he came in contact with. He’s gonna be hard to replace.”

DeLong said he’s actively trying to find someone of Soper’s caliber.

“With 20 years experience, it’s going to take us a while,” DeLong said. “Good quality people are hard to come by right now. We are trying our best to find the right person for the community.”

The department still has two officer positions open and is in talks with several candidates who might one day live up to Soper’s legacy.

“He’s got huge shoes to fill,” Leonard said. “… Anytime you have somebody who comes in and starts their career with your agency and works their way up through that agency, gets promotions, and shows that they really care about the community they’re working in, that’s really hard to replace. You have someone with all that experience and expertise and training, that loyalty to the community. You just don’t find that. That’s something that’s just not that common, especially in law enforcement now.”

Hume said he started as a patrol officer during the time Soper was also on the road, adding that Soper had a passion for the job.

“Brian Soper is an individual who not only had a passion for public safety during his law enforcement career, but he had a passion and compassion for the public that he served for those 20 years with the Craig Police Department,” Hume said. “He worked for what was right and for victims in every instance.”

Soper said his new job is very different — he works with the same crew every day at the same place. He doesn’t wear a bulletproof vest anymore or necessarily expect the unexpected at a moment’s notice, as he did in law enforcement. He said he enjoys his new career, but it was a tough choice leaving his law enforcement career for a new one at the age of 50.

“I wasn’t ready to leave,” Soper said. “Unfortunately, I just had to go elsewhere for gainful employment.”

Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 or cthorp@CraigDailyPress.com.

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