Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in this week’s edition of the Roaring Fork Weekly Journal, an Aspen Daily News sister publication serving the midvalley.
For the first time in more than 20 years, there will be a new police chief for Carbondale. Advertisements started running last week for the top cop job, which Town Manager Jay Harrington said offers a range of pay between $99,930 and $126,189.
Police Chief Gene Schilling, who is not in the office this week, started with the town in 1983 and was promoted to chief in 1997.
“He’s been with the town quite a few years,” Harrington said, noting that Schilling succeeded Chief Fred Williams. Schilling’s last day will be Sept. 1 and he is retiring.
Advertisements will close on Feb. 10 and Harrington said on-site interviews will be held in March, with a job offer being tendered in late March or early April “if everything goes as planned.”
The new chief would work with Schilling during a transition period over the summer, he added.
Harrington, who has been town manager for the past eight-and-a-half years, will be making the final hiring decision per the town charter, though the candidate must also be approved by the board of trustees.
“It’s a good opportunity for the right person. I would say that finding a really good fit for the community, hiring a police chief that really works well, is one of the more difficult hires for a community,” Harrington said.
The department includes 14 sworn officers, including the chief, one ordinance officer and two office staffers.
A unique flavor
Schilling isn’t the only top cop stepping away from the Carbondale force. Lt. Chris Wurtsmith, who is assistant police chief and has worked in the department since June 1995, also plans to retire this year, he said this week.
“I’ve been doing this for 27 years,” Wurtsmith said. “July 1 will be my last day.”
The town manager said he wishes the assistant chief wasn’t departing in the same time frame as the chief of police. Harrington added that the new chief will be tasked with hiring his or her second in command.
Lt. Wurtsmith’s decision may come as a surprise as one local, who asked not to be named, said he assumed the longtime assistant chief was not only interested in the job but would be considered a frontrunner for Schilling’s position. A similar opinion was voiced by two other residents.
Wurtsmith said this week that while he did give the position some consideration, “There are other things that I want to do,” including exploring artwork through different media. Asked about his thoughts on the police chief job, Wurtsmith said, “The biggest challenge is providing basic police services while making sure it’s in the flavor the town wants and deserves.”
Certainly, Carbondale has a unique flavor which may not suit everyone.
“Some folks have noticed that during Mountain Fair, we wear tie-dyed uniform shirts,” Wurtsmith said with a laugh. “That’s unique in the police world!”
“The chief has always had a desire to go beyond what the typical agencies do,” he added. “Our officers help folks a lot and go above and beyond [what is required]”
Pressed for details on what specifically he meant, Wurtsmith said that the cops will assist with auto lock-outs and help a person start their car if it has a dead battery.
Wurtsmith also said that should someone over-imbibe, “We’d much rather give someone a ride home than an arrest for DUI.”
Has he seen crimes increase during his 20-plus-year tenure?
Wurtsmith said, “For the most part, things have remained the same. We have our share of everything a big city does but it’s proportionate to our population.
“I don’t see a rise in any one thing at all. Occasionally we have rashes of car break-ins, occasionally we get stolen vehicles. But almost always they have the keys in them.”
Wurtsmith went on to add that, “The number one thing stolen in Carbondale are bicycles. They are hardly ever locked up.”
Town Manager Harrington opined that the most common crimes the police force see on a regular basis are DUIs and domestic violence.
“Someone has to be able to balance small-town needs and have the experience to deal with some of the more serious issues our police do face,” he said.
Harrington also said that the number of incidents directly related to Mountain Fair have declined in recent years due to “both how the event is managed and how the police interact.” Tickets for MIPs, or minors in possession, are also down historically, something he credits to management by the Carbondale Arts and the peace patrol.
The position is already drawing a lot of attention, with two or three applications rolling in every day, Harrington said. “We’ve had interest from throughout the country and locally.”
The job doesn’t include housing; the new hire will be allowed to live within a 35-mile radius, which Harrington said “is an acknowledgement that housing could be challenging in Carbondale.”
He also said it’s probable that no one will be promoted within as “I don’t believe anyone internally would meet the base requirements for what we’re advertising right now.” Those standards include five years as a commander and 10 years in law enforcement.
The job description references the town’s position on immigration.
“We wanted to make sure the profile spoke to the town’s position on immigration issues,” Harrington said.
The new chief “needs to work closely with our diverse population in Carbondale.” The board of trustees, who reviewed the profile and provided feedback, “wanted this to reflect that position,” he emphasized.