The FOP was willing to help, says the deputy, but unwilling to go in blind. He says the group began taking a look at Camp's budget to assure itself that the department's belt was as tight as it could get.

According to the deputy, that wasn't what the FOP found. "Basically," he says, "the sheriff was not spending the money right." Camp, for example, has long been involved with the Colorado Police and Fire Games, an athletic competition for the state's police officers and firefighters. In 1992 he used approximately $48,000 from his department's drug-forfeiture fund to bring the games to Adams County.

Camp stands by the expenditure--"I don't think I need to apologize for that," he says--and denies ever soliciting help from the FOP. He did invite FOP boardmembers to participate in the 1994 budget process, he says, but he certainly didn't go to them hat in hand.

Besides, Camp had another idea about how to boost his deputies' salaries: He asked the county commissioners if he could use a projected $425,000 "personnel savings" fund to provide one-time, 6 percent bonuses to all employees below the rank of captain. The commissioners refused, in part because the personnel savings fund itself was a bone of contention.

The fund is made up of money earmarked for salaries. It accumulated because Camp wasn't filling his positions fast enough. (He says it takes months to fill a single deputy slot.) If the sheriff's staffing situation was so dire, the commissioners demanded, why wasn't the sheriff using that money for overtime? And why did he wait so long before hiring new staff?

In late June, after the commissioners denied Camp's request to reapportion the personnel money, Camp sent a letter to deputies and other employees advising them of the commissioners' stand and informing them that he planned to ask that a proposed tax increase be put on the ballot, with the funds earmarked for the sheriff's department.

Later in the summer, when Camp pressed the commissioners to put a $3.7 million mil levy increase on the November ballot, Valente and the others opposed it. For one thing, the commissioners told Camp, he hadn't proved it was necessary. Second, says commissioner Harold Kite, he and his colleagues felt there wasn't enough time to drum up voter support. And third, Camp had not proven that he had any sizable citizen support for the measure.

Sheriff's deputy Ron Rusk stepped into the void and took up Camp's cause with a passion. He established an employee group and stormed the commission meeting on the night of August 24. A hundred or so officers showed up to insist that the issue be placed before the voters. They complained about low salaries and overcrowding. They yelled and hooted and booed. And they complained that the commissioners were stiffing them because Camp is a Republican and the commissioners are Democrats.

The commissioners didn't sit quietly and take it. Commissioner Guillermo DeHerrera went on the offensive, accusing Camp of not having his own house in order. He took the (absent) chief to task for spending $20,000 over four years to pay for his own training at the FBI Academy and for classes in community-oriented policing. And he railed against the sheriff's sizable personnel savings fund.

Valente remains angry about that meeting and the issues that were raised. "It outraged me when they said our decisions were based on Democrats versus Republicans," she said. "We have so many crisis situations, so many problems, I don't even have time to stop and think about that."

The commissioners say they believe Camp's salary demands are a political smokescreen designed to make them take the rap for the sheriff's problems. Shearer, meanwhile, has made a campaign issue out of claiming that Camp's department is top-heavy and that Camp is the one responsible. If elected, Shearer says, he will get rid of upper-level officers and use that money to hire more deputies.

Those stands helped Shearer win the FOP's endorsement last April, although Camp's campaign manager has since suggested that the vote was tainted. In a June 29 letter to the Commerce City Beacon, Jim Morlen referred to "unaudited balloting" and the fact that "several members [of the FOP] board openly supported Mr. Shearer, and it was they who arranged the vote and counted the ballots." An FOP spokesman denies the accusations of impropriety, adding that a police officer from another district was present at the vote count.

Camp says he's not concentrating on endorsements, anyway. Instead, his campaign has sent sheaves of self-congratulatory faxes to the media, touting everything from the fact that the Adams County jail has received national accreditation to the news that he and his wife set weightlifting records in a recent state contest. "They look forward to a successful future as a powerlifting couple!" noted one missive sent out on department letterhead.

The sheriff also has concentrated on raising questions about his opponent's past. Earlier this summer, following a speaking engagement in Albuquerque, Camp made a detour to Montrose, accompanied by his campaign manager, in hopes of discovering exactly why Shearer left the force there.

"I read the newspaper articles [about his departure], but they were somewhat vague," Camp says. "So I went down there and talked to four different people, and they all said virtually the same thing. The venom I got from them--they absolutely hated the man. I didn't talk to one officer down there who worked under his command that didn't have some anger built up in him."

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