Craig Police Department plots new course
CRAIG — Some answers are beginning to emerge to the lingering questions surrounding where the Craig Police Department is headed after a recent shake-up of leadership and personnel, though much remains to be seen.
Interim Police Chief Jerry DeLong — a 33-year veteran of the department who was tapped to fill in after former Chief Walt Vanatta was forced to retire in early August — is considering changes intended to maximize officers’ time on patrol.
“What we’re exploring is how to become more efficient and keep more officers on the street,” DeLong said. “We’re looking … to see if we can have people do some online reporting.”
The new method would allow citizens to fill out a report online for certain types of minor incidents, such as thefts or fender benders, without officers having to take the report themselves on scene.
The small changes are a step toward the new direction and plan which Craig City Manager Mike Foreman said he wanted to see implemented at the department after the exodus of Vanatta, who served as police chief for 19 years.
The city has not begun an active search for a new chief, Foreman said, and has instead decided to give DeLong a six-month trial period.
“We are going to give him the opportunity to perform in that position and evaluate him in probably six months,” Foreman said. “He’s been able to come up with a great plan for the future.”
The department is currently understaffed, however, after the recent resignations of Corporal Alvin Luker, who spent 16 years with the department and whose final day was Sept. 15. Detective Jen Kenney resigned in August and left with 17 years of experience at the department.
A third officer, Detective Travis Young, also resigned in August with 16 years of experience, and his grant-funded position was eliminated due to budget cuts.
“Hopefully, we will (fill them quickly), but we have a pretty extensive background check to make sure we’re getting the right people for the position,” DeLong said.
A search is actively underway to fill two officer positions as soon as possible, however, the hiring process could extend to six months, and that’s a best-case scenario. Hiring and training new officers costs about $55,000 per officer, according to a memo Vanatta submitted to Foreman in June.
One of the positions being hired is a school resource officer to fill the shoes of former School Resource Officer Norm Rimmer, who transferred to the investigations unit in August.
The investigations unit was left severely understaffed following this summer’s reorganization and the resignations. Both Rimmer and fellow School Resource Officer Ryan Fritz typically support investigations outside the normal school year, and Rimmer agreed to make the switch.
Though Rimmer will continue to offer support at the schools on Mondays until the position can be hired, the change means less face-to-face time between students and police officers for now. Fritz will remain dedicated to schools full-time for now.
“My first thought was, ‘Man, that’s 50-percent less time we’re going to have the opportunity for positive interaction,’ and both of those guys do a really good job with that,” said Moffat County School District Superintendent Dave Ulrich. “Those kinds of deposits in the bank can be invaluable.”
The school district and police department share the cost of salaries for the two officers under terms that have shifted through the years as budgets have tightened for one organization or the other.
“As community partners in this situation, we certainly understand it’s our turn to pick up the police department and support them as best we can as they go through their budget times,” Ulrich said.
The changes in personnel and budget will not impact the DARE program, Ulrich said.
The department is also searching for a new patrol officer to fill Luker’s former position.
Finally, the shake-up that has played out at the police department meant a fast turnaround for Interim Commander Bill Leonard, whose original commander position was cut effective Aug. 4. He accepted a lower-ranking position of sergeant detective, which lasted only a few days before he was reinstated as interim commander after DeLong stepped up to fill the interim chief’s role.
Leonard’s interim status will also be evaluated in six months.
The department continues to move forward, however, as DeLong explores creating an online reporting option for certain types of non-emergent calls to reduce officers’ time spent in the office.
“When they’re in the office, they’re writing reports and stuff of that nature,” DeLong said, a time-consuming task that could be reduced with online reporting.
“There may even be some calls we might not respond to. One of them on top of my mind is accidents on private property,” he said, such as business parking lots. “It’s not about having more officers, but using the officers that I have and, instead of them being in here writing reports, having them out on the streets.”
Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.