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Valley Voices Article - Sheriff James Van Beek: Playing well together

We are so fortunate that in Eagle County we have an exceptional team of first responders and law enforcement. When an event occurs, we generally operate as a smooth machine beneath the chaos of the moment. 

While we each have our area of expertise and we defer to the appropriate agency on how to best move forward, we also recognize that sometimes events occur at a pace or magnitude where another agency must temporarily step in due to logistics or other efficiencies, in order to save lives, protect those involved, and diminish damage from what has occurred. It is then that a deeper level of trust, experience, and cooperation are essential in achieving a successful outcome. 

Yet, that sense of cooperation does not come naturally in a field where intense and highly specific training is demanded. Those acquired skills must become second nature because in times of emergency there cannot be any doubt. 

By understanding the specialty of each unit, we can work well together, trusting in the expertise of each agency. When we seek to personally know the individuals in charge, we can become familiar with their leadership style and can rely on their integrity and knowledge should the need arise.  Therefore, if one must step in for the other, we have greater assurance of a positive result. 

This past week, I was fortunate to attend a conference of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, where it was my honor to get elected to the board of directors. What made this meeting unique was that it was coordinated by Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins and Steamboat Springs Chief of Police Cory Christensen to also include the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, which became the base of an unprecedented future initiative. 

A significant part of our meetings were held jointly, as we began establishing a statewide law enforcement alliance. In doing so, we will create better lines of communication and coordination extending beyond local jurisdictions to encompass the entire state.

We also created a foundation of leaders, both elected and appointed, to work closely with legislators, to learn from one another, and develop regulations that improve the safety and security of our entire Colorado community. 

The alliance we’ve developed is unique to our state. This level of cooperation is non-existent in many other areas of the country, where jurisdictional lines are so heavily drawn between agencies that during times of emergency, things can fall through the cracks when one agency thinks the other is handling it. There are overlaps, for sure, but making those assumptions and being afraid to cross lines for fear of later repercussions runs counter to the overall mission. We are conscious of this and are making deliberate moves to counter any potential deficiencies in the delivery of services, particularly during times when much is at stake. 

This team approach to crisis response has been solid within our local first responder community. We saw this in action during last year’s fires but are pleased that it will now expand to the entire state, making us all more efficient in our dedication to “Protect and Serve.” 

In our work towards creating a better, more efficient and personalized approach toward law enforcement, we are dedicated to improving services on multiple levels. The ability to view things from different perspectives, share strategies, and fine-tune approaches, will make us all better able to serve our communities and cover the diverse needs of each. 

Involved in these meetings, from our local community, were me, Eagle Police Chief Joey Staufer, who is a CACP Board Member; Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger, who is also vice president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police; Avon Police Chief Greg Daly, our former SWAT commander and board member of several Eagle County community organizations; and Basalt Police Chief Greg Knot, another CACP board member. This level of local, national, and global expertise, within a relatively small community, is uncommon and one of the reasons why our work together is so successful. 

We shared some of our strategies regarding our work with the Law Enforcement Immigrant Alliance, the various mental health organizations and available services, the Special Operations Team, and the Multi-Agency Drug Task Force. We discussed the importance we place on community involvement and the success of programs like Shop with a Cop, National Night Out, and Citizen Police Academies. We praised the many fire, ambulance, and other medical and rescue services that we are fortunate to have as extended team members, and the respect we have for their dedication, including the work of our many dispatchers, who must distinguish genuine concerns from others and must expertly direct services within moments and under high duress.   

This new initiative will hopefully set the trend for law enforcement across the country. Working together is always better than going it alone. 

Thank you to all who support us, and we will continue to work hard at earning your respect. 

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.