Rangely hosts public forum to review police procedures

RANGELY | The Rangely Town Council met Tuesday in a packed regular meeting where they solicited feedback from the community on current police department practices.
Town attorney Dan Wilson introduced the forum by saying the town has heard concerns about community policing. He discussed the need to balance the department’s mandate to follow the law while using some discretion.
The forum, which lasted more than three hours, was dominated by audience members sharing personal experiences with the Rangely Police Department (RPD) which left them upset and with an overall feeling of being harassed. While a number of speakers vocalized support for the department, multiple others felt officers were treating citizens with disrespect or in a childish manner. Speakers frequently requested more consistency in traffic stops and police actions. Attorney Dan Wilson stated, “If a person is under a lot of stress he might not be the best officer that day.”
Rio Blanco County Commissioner Jeff Rector said there needed to be more uniformity in the “heavy-handedness” he believes is currently occurring in the RPD. He described being pulled over for allegedly swerving and weaving. Rector said he told the officer, “You‚‘re a [expletive] liar,” and subsequently received a ticket for failure to produce proof of insurance. Rector felt the officer had gone out of his way, following him all over town, “looking for a DUI.” He said that he’s concerned issues like this will impede economic growth for the community.
Councilman Andy Key was concerned that officers are assuming the worst about the community, to which Chief of Police Vince Wilczek responded, “complacency kills.”
Key replied, “If you are assuming everyone here is the worst person ever it‚‘s never going to work.”
Councilman Andy Shaffer referred to last month’s police statistics that the RPD had conducted 56 traffic stops and issued 45 warnings.
Shanna Kinney, wife of Lieutenant Roy Kinney, defended the department. “When did we start quarterbacking everybody? I want my husband to come home,” she said.
Former councilman Gary Hinaman discussed his experience as a parent of a drug addict. He said that he supports drug addicts being arrested and held so they can detox. He also discussed the need for a local halfway house and rehabilitation programs to support addicts when they are released from jail.
Jessica Fortunato shared her story of an auto accident she was involved in last week. Fortunato rolled her pickup on the hill below the recreation center. She and her daughter, who was in the vehicle, walked the short distance home and called in the accident. She said the responding officer told her she would not be issued a ticket, as she wasn‚‘t speeding and not doing anything wrong. According to Fortunato, Tuesday she was informed that the status had changed and she was now under investigation for reckless driving. She said the officer also told her he believed she’d been drinking. Fortunato was upset about the damage that had been done to her reputation and questioned what caused the change in status.
Councilman Andy Key asked why the RPD posted a status update on an ongoing drug investigation on Facebook and instigated an investigation in the Fortunato accident on Tuesday. Key described them as, “power moves.” Attorney Wilson suggested the issue not be discussed in public.
John Perry, owner of the Main Street Pub, said he believes the high number of traffic stops has impacted his business. He said customers have learned that every time they leave the Pub they get pulled over and have decided to just quit coming. He acknowledged the tough work the officers take on, but wanted them to make sure their work was “legitimate.”
Leonard Lane stated that we need to always support the police and said, “This is the wrong place to be doing this.” Crystal Ducey also expressed support for the department.
Shaffer also asked about the department’s role in responding to and addressing complaints. The discussion of formal complaint filings struck a nerve with the audience which alleged the complaint process opened them up to retribution and was ineffective. Chief Wilczek said he was open to improvements in the complaint filing process.
Chief Wilczek expressed support for his department by saying, “All my officers are great officers.” He also said all police tactics everywhere are the same and there would not be any retribution from the officers for those who file complaints.
In other business, before the public forum the council swore in Matt Billgren as a trustee. Billgren was appointed by the council earlier this month following the resignation of Joe Nielsen.
Members of the Rangely High School Student Council approached the trustees seeking a donation for Rowdy Worm, the after-prom activity for students. The town agreed to provide $750 and requested that the student council spend as much money as possible in town.
Petitions to run for the council in the April election were returned to Town Clerk Lisa Piering this week. Andy Shaffer is running unopposed for mayor. Five residents have turned in petitions for three open seats on the board: James Dillon, Luke Geer, Alisa Granger, Matt Billgren and Rich Garner.