LIFE ON THE EDGE

IN QUIRKY EDGEWATER, THE CIRCUS IS ALWAYS IN TOWN.OUR TOWN IN EDGEWATER, THE JUDGE IS A CONVICTED FELON. THAT'S JUST FOR STARTERS.

The council confirmed Klein's appointment in a unanimous vote, says former councilman Dale Rickstrew, who adds that he had "no idea" that Klein was a convicted felon until being contacted by Westword. "I certainly would have had some second thoughts and questions about the ratification," he says. "I certainly would have wanted to know more before voting."

Grace Young now is trying to make sure that all the councilmembers are aware of the judge's background and of the stiff sentence he gave her son. But she is not the first person to complain publicly about Klein's sentencing habits. Last fall Myke Johnson and her daughter Julie Rodriguez, two first-time offenders who were found guilty of shoplifting a $7.50 can of paint (Johnson also was convicted of interfering with a police officer), were slapped with almost $1,000 in fines and court costs. The women, who testified that they'd been roughed up by Edgewater police officers before their arrest, are appealing their convictions on numerous grounds.

Among other things, they say in their appeal brief, Klein allowed jury deliberations "to take place in plain view of five to ten police officers milling around directly outside the windows of the jury room." The uniformed officers' "revelry," says the brief, was fully visible to jurors--a fact made clear to Klein, who "failed to provide the jurors with a private and secure place to deliberate."

Klein says he can't comment because the case is on appeal. Pfeuffer, who has only thirteen officers on his entire force, says he believes that only he and one other policeman attended the trial, the first jury trial the city had had in two years. However, Johnson and Rodriguez's version of events is supported by former city councilwoman and Edgewater Tribune editor Doni Brune, who was present at the trial.

Pfeuffer signed on as the chief in Edgewater in March 1991, having left a job as chief of police in the Western Slope town of Rangely. His resume reveals a solid background in forensics, and stresses his drug enforcement training. What the council might not have realized when they hired him, however, is that Pfeuffer also considers himself "an agent of change and a risk-taker."

One of the first things the chief did when he hit town was assess his department's needs. He quickly determined that his officers needed raises, and that the department needed more cops and newer equipment. "I'm here to do the best job for the city, and I do it jealously and protectively," Pfeuffer says today.

Five months later, just before the council was slated to vote on Pfeuffer's request for a $170,000 boost in his 1992 budget, half his force came forward and threatened to quit unless they received a pay raise and the department was given funding for three more officers. If the council didn't come across with the money, Pfeuffer said, he'd have to put a stop to the town's anti-gang and anti-drug programs.

The council sided with Pfeuffer. But then-mayor Ron Allison vetoed the raise. "Money was tight," he says simply.

The cops never did follow through on their threat to quit en masse. And Pfeuffer didn't curtail his D.A.R.E. program or anti-gang efforts. Instead the chief estimated he could solve some of his budget woes by seizing cash and property recovered during felony arrests. He projected that the department could raise $100,000 in one year.

Edgewater cops had already set up a "reverse sting" operation, offering to sell large amounts of marijuana to out-of-town dealers who traveled to Edgewater to do their shopping. By mid-October, the department had seized three cars and $3,000 in cash from drug suspects (officers are now allowed to drive one of the cars, a Camaro, while on patrol). Police picked up another $50,000 from a pawnbroker whose shop they seized after it was declared a "public nuisance."

Pfeuffer's money-raising efforts drew the attention of the media, and after Brune and former councilman Nelson McNulty expressed their concerns to the Denver Post, Pfeuffer sent the council a six-page response defending his actions.

Edgewater's narcotics program resembled programs in effect at "most progressive police departments," he said, and was developed in response to input from the public, the mayor and the council. "Historically," he wrote, "the Edgewater Police Department has been less than aggressive in dealing with narcotics."

And if the town's elected officials disliked his approach, he added, he would in the future appreciate discussing the matters "before reading it in the local press." (Oddly, Pfeuffer now says he can't remember ever receiving any bad press about the seizure of cash and vehicles.)

Some town residents claim that Pfeuffer exaggerates crime in order to back up his funding requests. Brune in particular is quick to criticize what she calls Pfeuffer's semimonthly "dog-and-pony show" at council meetings. Once, to illustrate that the city had a gang problem, the chief and some of his officers "brought an entire closet door with grafitti on it" to a council meeting, she says with disbelief.

The chief has also drawn criticism for building his power base at the expense of other city agencies. "He's a marvelous politician," former councilwoman Jeri Aiello says of Pfeuffer. "But sometimes he gets his position and his politics mixed up."

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