Craig police chief defends agency against possible consolidation
February 12, 2019
Craig's police chief isn't happy.
In an emotional appeal before Craig City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 12, Police Chief Jerry DeLong said that, for months, City Council has been considering consolidating the Craig Police Department and the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office without his consultation.
"I get emotional, because this is very difficult for me …" DeLong said. "I just hired four people that might not have a job in six months or eight months."
Councilman Chris Nichols has been leading the study of consolidating police forces. He presented council Tuesday with the possibility of saving some $750,000 by eliminating Craig's police department and allowing the Moffat County sheriff to hire 18 to 21 deputies to police Craig and the rest of Moffat County. Under the proposal, the city of Craig would take over code enforcement and animal services, leaving policing to the Moffat County sheriff.
Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume was at an EMS Council meeting and was not able to attend the workshop.
"Our job as a council is to look into ways that we can save money," Nichols said. "And it's totally ridiculous to me that we can't have this conversation because we're afraid we're going to hurt someone's feelings."
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At least 50 residents, many of them Craig police officers and their families, attended Tuesday's 5 p.m. workshop at City Hall, leaving space for standing room only.
The Craig Press sent a letter of concern to council members and county commissioners in response to at least one consolidation strategy session that was held without notifying the newspaper. DeLong said he, too, wasn't aware of the meeting until after it had occurred.
"I feel like my organization, your police department, is getting a raw deal," DeLong said. "I feel like someone is putting their foot on the gas pedal, and they just took off. To me, this is all about money."
Craig Mayor John Ponikvar said the council is only considering the proposal. He added Craig police officers and their families aren't the only ones who are feeling threatened, saying there were reports of Hume's family receiving harassment.
"I would feel really bad if that came from our law enforcement community in the city," Ponikvar said.
Many spoke against consolidating police in Craig, including two experienced Craig police sergeants.
Council did not make an official motion Tuesday to consolidate police forces during its workshop, but approved continued study of the issue.
Several council members — including Tony Bohrer, Jarrod Ogden, and Joe Bird — expressed their discontent with Nichols and his consolidation work.
Perhaps the most forceful statements against consolidation came from Ogden, who said he was upset about any consolidation meetings that were possibly held in secret and was concerned DeLong wasn't consulted. He said the talk of consolidation alone has sent ripple effects through CPD and other city departments.
Ogden said he wouldn't support consolidation as currently presented and wasn't sure anyone in the room Tuesday, aside from a handful of consolidation supporters, would either.
"There's no way I can sit here and go for this," Ogden said.
Ogden would later make an official motion to stop all discussion about police consolidation and put a five-year moratorium on any further consolidation discussions. Ogden’s motion was seconded by Bohrer.
“We probably ought to go to the voters and ask them about dissolving departments,” Bird said after the motion was made.
Council passed the motion, with Councilman Derek Duran the only dissenting vote. Nichols voted with the majority to end consolidation talks.
Though he wasn't sure he'd have a job after expressing his disapproval with some on council Tuesday, DeLong said he only wanted to make sure the public and those unaware on council knew what was happening.
"I'm just letting everybody know what our agency has put up with for the last three months," DeLong said.
Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 or cthorp@CraigDailyPress.com.