(Guest Column) Rangely COPS program informative and enlightening

By JULIE DRAKE

RBC Public Health Director

RBC | I have been in several meetings lately with local law enforcement officers. I know on a superficial level what law enforcement does—to protect and serve, but any further details and it’s a little fuzzy for me. Are they really the power hungry, overzealous, control freaks that local social media and letters to the editor have portrayed? I decided I needed to find out, after all, we share similar missions— prevention, protection and public service.

I heard about the community outreach program (COPS) the Rangely police department was doing and immediately called Police Chief Vincent Wilczek to see if I could attend. He enthusiastically extended an invitation to me. So one night a week my family gets TV dinners and I am in a citizen’s police academy!

This has been some of the most interesting and valuable training I have had all year long. I have a heightened awareness of what our Rangely Police Department does, the dangers they encounter and the valiant work they are doing to keep our communities safe.

It shook me a bit to hear and watch actual body camera footage of situations where the officers lives were in danger and the quick decisions they made that kept you and I safe in our homes. It was alarming to hear about and see the drugs that have been found on our streets. Each night as I drive back to my home, I can’t help but admire and respect the officers in our communities even more. Their job is hard.

There are very few drug recognition expert (DRE) officers in Colorado. Only a couple hundred, compared to the tens of thousands of officers statewide. It made me proud that we have a DRE right here in Rio Blanco County. The next closest is in the Grand Junction metro area. To hear about the rigorous training this officer went through, and to see the daily training and commitment to this job is awe inspiring. He is not alone, he has a very faithful, intelligent and well trained partner—his dog, Eiko. Eiko uses his keen sense of smell to find drugs. Drugs we can’t see, smell or detect in any other simple way.

I learned about use of force and when and how it is deployed. What a complex decision rubric these officers have embedded in their memories. They must know in a split second to use physical force, taser or gun. Unfortunately their decisions are scrutinized by the public in a way that no other profession experiences. Can you imagine if a doctor’s misdiagnosis was plastered all through local social media, and in public forums? What about a teacher who accidentally disciplined the wrong student?

I am learning much about law enforcement in the county. My role in prevention, safety and helping people thrive pales in comparison to the all the law enforcement officers of our county. My daily occupational stress, danger, public scrutiny and grit is only a fraction of theirs. At the end of each COPS I am glad I have those officers to collaborate with—they make all of our lives and jobs a little easier. A special thanks to officer Hamblin, Kinney, Mazzella, Becker and Wilczek for the training you have given me. I look forward to next week’s class. “You can’t be healthy without first being safe!”

Julie Drake

Julie Drake is the Public Health Director for Rio Blanco County

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