MORE

TOWN HAUL

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."

Cripple Creek lies about eighty miles due south of Central City and Black Hawk. But the towns share so many similarities that they might as well be side by side.

When Ed Stauffer signed on as Cripple Creek chief in 1988, he was paid $1,200 a month to head the three-person department. He and his officers averaged about eight arrests a year, partly because there wasn't much crime in Cripple Creek, and partly because they weren't able to devote much time to investigations. "When you have three officers and you get a theft," Stauffer explains, "you do what you can. I'd tell them, `Do what you can, but don't spend too much time on it.'"

Stauffer came to the job with 23 years' experience as an officer with the University of Pennsylvania Police Department. His life as a campus cop, in the view of El Paso DA John Suthers, did not qualify him to serve as police chief in a bustling gambling community.

"When gambling was approved," Suthers says, "I spent a lot of time meeting with the existing Cripple Creek town council. I suggested to them that with the onset of gambling, they were going to have to upgrade the professionalism of their department. Because of new demands and the fact that most of the people police would be dealing with were outsiders, their ways of doing business could not continue as they were. I suggested moves to upgrade their police department. They indicated they were taking me seriously. In hindsight, they did not.

"They have the same police chief," Suthers continues. "The department has not developed in a way that has kept up with the demands of what's transpired."

According to Stauffer and Mayor Henry Hack, one of Suthers's early suggestions to the council was that they get rid of the chief and his captain, Gary Hamilton, before gaming came to town.

That helped set the stage for the bad feelings that still exist between Suthers and Stauffer. The situation was exacerbated by the establishment of a special Mountain Intelligence Unit made up of representatives from the Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs police departments, Suthers's office, the El Paso and Teller County sheriffs' offices, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service.

"When gaming first started," explains Cripple Creek city attorney Charlie Houghton, "we didn't know what kind of criminal element would be attracted to gambling. No one was in a position to put their finger on it and say if fencing or prostitution would come with it. They set up an intelligence unit to pool crime information and monitor the activities of known criminals."

It seemed to Stauffer, though, that the group was spending plenty of time monitoring him.

One of Stauffer's own officers began taking complaints about the Cripple Creek department to Suthers. Specifically, says the chief, the officer claimed that Stauffer had told him not to arrest anyone on the town council. The chief denied the accusation and fired the officer for insubordination.

"They've been picking at me ever since," Stauffer adds. "I'm at the point now where I say, `The heck with them.' We've run an honest department. We're going to help the people. I don't care what [Suthers] says. If I do something wrong, let him charge me."

The intelligence unit "did not work good with these local people," adds Mayor Hack, and Cripple Creek decided to withdraw from the joint law enforcement effort.

However, criticism of the police department didn't end with the unit's departure from Cripple Creek. Stauffer took public heat for nepotism when critics questioned his employment of his wife and two sons-in-law. (The chief notes that he hired both men as officers before they married his daughters; his wife, he says, was actually hired by a councilman.) The incident with the officer who forgot to turn in his sidearm before leaving town with the female dispatcher also was an embarrassment. And Suthers kept up his public criticism of the chief as well.

"About two years ago," Stauffer says, "[Suthers] talked about us in the paper and said that if we stopped somebody for DUI and they were a local, that we would let them go. And I said he ought to keep his mouth shut unless he knows what he's talking about."

 

The district attorney also passed along a complaint that Stauffer was giving rides home to locals who'd had too much to drink. "If someone calls and says there's this old man who's been around for years and has had too much to drink and to come get him, well, I used to go get them," Stauffer says. "And if someone calls and says they're stuck downtown, I can still afford to help somebody."

Two months ago, says Stauffer, Suthers again tried to have him fired. "He came to my council and said that [Hamilton] and I were incompetent, and the council reprimanded me on his say-so. The council said the people don't like us, the DA doesn't like us and the judges don't like us."

Suthers acknowledges that he took grievances about the police department's sloppy work to the town council. "We've had some problems proving cases," he says, "and I have had comments from two judges who handle district court cases. They are very concerned about the professionalism in the police department. We have not yet had to suppress evidence [due to faulty investigations] in high-profile cases, but they suggested to me that it's only a matter of time. I told the town council that as recently as January."

Stauffer defends the two detectives who handle the department's investigations, but says their job would be made easier if they had the proper equipment. "We had a suicide, and we didn't have...what's that called?" the chief asks, turning to Hamilton. "A gunshot residue kit," the captain responds.

The criticism and pressures of the job seem to be wearing Stauffer down. In the year before gaming came to town, he says, he never worried that he couldn't handle the job. "Now," he says, "I got doubts." His troops are clamoring for better benefits and "all that stuff." Those aren't issues he's used to dealing with. "When you have three people on your department," notes Captain Hamilton, "there aren't many personnel problems."

For now, Stauffer is sticking with Cripple Creek, and Cripple Creek is sticking with him, confident that the chief's Mayberry-style approach will weather the storm. "So far, we seem to be getting along pretty well, and we felt we should more or less run our own department," says Mayor Hack. "I know that things have not been done according to the way Suthers thinks they should be done, and maybe we didn't handle things right."

But, adds the mayor, "we've had an awful lot of compliments about the way things are handled here. The only thing we get yelled at about is tickets."

end of part 2


Sponsor Content