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TOWN HAUL

POLICE WORK CAN BE A REAL GAMBLE IN COLORADO'S GAMING TOWNS.

part 2 of 2
The Central City Police Department sits just a half-mile from the site of Black Hawk's police headquarters. Compared to Black Hawk's new digs, Central City officers have a modest home. But they're pleased nonetheless. The officers moved into their headquarters building--a defunct casino--in January, after making do with quarters cursed with floors so squeaky it was difficult to carry on a phone conversation when someone else was walking around.

The town's old police chief, however, never got a chance to try out the chief's office on the first floor. Elmo Gatlin, who took the job in May 1988, only survived a year of post-gambling Central City.

In the town's quieter days, Gatlin got along just fine, walking the streets and shaking hands with businesspeople and visitors. "I knew Elmo fairly well," says Thomas. "He would have done fine with one other person under his charge, saying `hi' to the people in the gift shops."

After gaming was approved, Thomas says, "Elmo tried very hard to learn how to do the job." But the chief didn't survive long. In February 1993 he was forced to resign after officers on the force told the city attorney and district attorney's office that Gatlin had taken home a bicycle that had been donated to a holiday toy drive. Gatlin gave the bike to his four-year-old son. No criminal charges were ever brought.

The town council brought Jerry Fricke on board to fill in as interim chief. Fricke spent 25 years with the Aurora Police Department, retiring in 1986 as a division chief. He then served about four years as chief of the Adams County Sheriff Department's patrol division. Fricke had acted as a consultant to Central City after gaming was approved, advising the town on what it needed to do to bring the department up to speed. Among other things, he recommended upgraded departmental training procedures. At the time, says Fricke, officers kept up their shooting qualifications by "plinking cans" up in the hills.

Fricke wound up taking the job permanently and inheriting a host of problems from his predecessor. One of the biggest headaches was Officer David Hayhurst.

Hayhurst was a seventeen-year veteran of the Denver Police Department when, in August 1989, he disappeared while on duty. His patrol car was found abandoned, its door open and the overhead lights on, as if he'd stopped to question someone. It appeared as if he'd been kidnapped, maybe killed, and police launched a massive manhunt.

Hayhurst turned up in Salt Lake City a week later, claiming he'd been abducted. His story soon felt apart, however, and he admitted he'd fled the state to avoid growing personal and financial problems. Rather than fire Hayhurst, Denver decided to treat his desertion as a "constructive resignation," and he was not allowed to rejoin the force.

Gatlin hired Hayhurst as a Central City officer in July 1992, describing the former Denver officer as "a very qualified police officer with good references." Fricke didn't agree with Gatlin's choice. Neither, apparently, did a local bartender, on whom Hayhurst applied a chokehold during an arrest in early 1993.

Hayhurst was dismissed three weeks after the incident. The bartender later sued Central City in small claims court, asking for reimbursement of medical expenses. The town settled the case out of court.

Hayhurst was only one of the personnel problems Fricke encountered during his first year on the job. In 1993 Fricke lost about half of his sixteen-person department. Three officers left to take jobs with larger police departments in the metro area. Three others--leftovers from the Gatlin era--were weeded out, Fricke says, because they were unqualified.

Unlike Yocom, who has sought young, energetic officers to patrol the streets of Black Hawk, Fricke chose to fill out his ranks with older, more experienced officers in keeping with his philosophy of giving Central City a "user-friendly, public-relations-oriented" police department. "I pick officers differently than someone I'd want in Aurora," Fricke explains. "I want someone who's more mature, who doesn't need all the excitement of going from one call to another. By hiring an officer who's been around for a while, they're more apt to stay with us."

Those officers are also less likely to hand out tickets at the drop of a hat, a low-key approach that appears to suit town residents just fine. It's a philosophy they're used to; Bruce Hartman runs the sheriff's department in Gilpin County much the same way, although his officers are kept hopping night and day due to the size of the territory they must cover.

Hartman is struggling with problems of his own, most of them caused by the post-gambling boom in arrests. The county is building a new jail to replace its present ten-inmate facility. The sheriff has had to budget $250,000 a year to house overflow prisoners in other county jails; his new jail will hold more than fifty prisoners.

Despite the increase in workload, salaries at the sheriff's department have failed to keep up with Hartman's cohorts down the street. Hartman is paid $28,000 annually--about the same as a Black Hawk police sergeant--and his deputies start at $23,000, reportedly less than a casino security guard earns. "I'm not looking for sympathy," Hartman says, "but it does get frustrating."

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