Saguache asks Center for police coverage

CENTER — At the Center Town Board meeting Tuesday, Saguache Town Clerk Iris Garcia and trustee Timothy Chittum appeared before the board to request an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) with the town to provide Saguache with a patrol officer.

Increased break-ins and other crimes in the town make a police presence in Saguache a necessity, and currently the town has no police coverage. Previously the town contracted with the Saguache Sheriff’s Office for a deputy to cover the town but that contract has expired, Garcia said, and the sheriff’s office is currently shorthanded.

The Town of Saguache voted in a one percent sales tax to help find an officer, and the town could afford to pay $40,000 a year towards coverage, Garcia told the board. “Dan [Sheriff Warwick] doesn’t have the manpower, so could we create a partnership to provide law enforcement coverage with an IGA to renew every year?” Garcia queried.

Town Administrator Brian Lujan said the town is willing to open a dialogue to explore the possibility, and said he has spoken to Chief Jim Gowin about the request. He said he is not sure how much $40,000 would give the town in coverage, which would depend on the amount of services the town is requiring.

Gowin told Garcia $40,000 might buy one officer, but the town needs to decide if they wish to pay as they go or would like an officer to work 40 hours a week, every day. He advised that the officer would not really be handling any major incidents which are handled by the sheriff’s office any way and other agencies, should the Saguache sheriff need back-up.

Gowin suggested the town pursue seat belt grant money and grants for DUI enforcement to help supplement officer pay. He said any tickets written could then go back in revenue to the town of Saguache.

Garcia said there is some office space for an officer in town hall and possibly a patrol car bought when the sheriff’s office was providing coverage could be used for any Center officer policing the town. Gowin said Center is willing to help, but is not willing to take any of Center citizens’ money to fund the coverage.

“I don’t see this happening quickly,” he commented. “There are other things involved with funding,” and the amount available probably would not cover all of them, he speculated. Gowin said he would like to look at Center’s reserve officer project and commented that he is surprised the sheriff’s office is not taking advantage of forming a posse and employing reserves to help with their manpower issues.

Gowin also advised the town to initiate a Neighborhood Watch program and said he would send an officer to the town to help implement this. “Then you can start taking care of yourselves while we are working this out,” he remarked.

If a Center officer is provided for the town and anyone is arrested for felonies, the perpetrators would still be sent to Saguache County Jail just as Center now sends those charges with felonies to the jail now, Gowin told Garcia. Saguache Sheriff’s dispatch center would handle calls.

Gowin said while the Saguache Sheriff’s Office may lose funding for an officer for the town, it also might help them deal with their manpower issues. Garcia told Gowin and the board that any IGA with the town would be specific and would address all matters in detail.

Lujan and Gowin said they would discuss the matter further and set up a meeting with Garcia.

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