Interim police chief reports on Center

CENTER— Center’s Interim Police Chief James McCloskey said Monday during a phone interview that Center Police Department could be undergoing changes soon which would fundamentally alter the course of law enforcement in the community.
Several officers have resigned, and the force is now down to only three officers, from seven previously serving. Two officers have been hired, but McCloskey insists they must first complete a 12-week training course before serving on the force.
Lack of proper training has been an ongoing concern for some time, McCloskey confirmed, and he hopes to put remedies in place for that. “When I came in, I found some things that concerned me gravely and should have been addressed immediately,” he reported. “There were very unhappy officers here.”
Sgt. Tim Arellano and officers Guaderama and Boyd quit the force. The department was already down two officers before the resignations, McCloskey noted. Reasons given by the officers for their resignations included insufficient salaries and the feeling they were “getting mixed signals from the chain of command.”
Arellano had planned to resign before he was appointed interim chief, McCloskey said.
Center officer’s salaries are not competitive compared with other counties, according to McCloskey. Center pays officers $15 an hour, Monte Vista $15.38 an hour (but that pay will soon be increased, McCloskey said); Alamosa $19.13 an hour; Del Norte $15.87 an hour and Saguache $15.38 an hour. Pay increases would help the town better attract and retain officers, he commented.
When signing on as interim chief, McCloskey said he made it clear to the town board that he wanted only one boss, not seven, and asked them to decide who he would report to. The board asked him to report to Town Administrator Brian Lujan, who would then take any of McCloskey’s concerns or observations to the board. McCloskey requested Lujan then convey the board’s wishes back to him.
“I don’t mind doing what the board wants, but it has to be structured, McCloskey explained. “I told them if they wanted me to go, I would, but they asked me to stay” despite his stipulations. “I am getting along fine with the board,” he added.
So far, the town has had several applications for a new chief, but McCloskey said hiring a new chief may not be the ultimate direction the town takes following former police chief Tristan Vanzalinge’s resignation. “They are looking at the possibility of absorbing the Center Police Department and dispatch center into the Saguache Sheriff’s Office,” McCloskey said.  
Current employees would keep their positions but would become sheriff’s office employees, increasing the deputy numbers to 14. This would better compare with other counties serving a similar population, he observed. Walsenburg Police have been absorbed by Huerfano County Sheriff’s Office and several other counties throughout the state have done the same with their municipalities, McCloskey said. The towns of Saguache and Moffat are currently under contract with the sheriff’s office for their law enforcement coverage.
Combining the two agencies would help the town of Center save money, McCloskey pointed out, and resolve some of the issues that led to Vanzalinge’s resignation and the resignation of the other officers. He has conducted an unofficial survey of Center residents, he said, and many citizens favor the transition.
The matter is still under discussion by the board, however, and a transition plan would need to be further researched and approved by Center trustees before any change could take place.


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