After almost four months on the job, Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw says he already sees what he believes are very positive changes taking place within the department.
Before assuming his responsibilities as Sheriff in early January, McGraw identified four specific goals that he hoped to address once sworn in.
He hoped to facilitate, in conjunction with county commissioners, pay raises for deputies and increases in the number of deputies on patrol.
McGraw also cited the need for improved police vehicles. Finally, he said he hoped to find the necessary funding to install school resource officers at South Park and Platte Canyon High Schools, as well as Fitzsimmons Middle School.
“Pay raises were approved by the commissioners, so we were very grateful for that,” McGraw said in an April 29 interview with The Flume. “It was not exactly what I wanted, but it is a very good start.”
The commissioners have approved two pay increases over the last year for Park County deputies. About one year ago, starting deputies’ salaries in Park County went from $28,000 per year to $38,000. More recently, that figure was increased to $43,000 annually.
The Sheriff’s Office was also down 10 deputies when McGraw arrived. According to McGraw, five new deputies have recently been added, and two more are currently undergoing the hiring process.
“We also have a lot of applicants, which is a good thing,” McGraw said. “Having twenty-two deputies is the goal, so we still need a few more.”
The county has ordered 10 new patrol vehicles that are more suited to the climate, and also to the workload and high-mileage usage that is required of police vehicles.
“We have ten Chevy Tahoes being delivered, and they should arrive some time around the end of this month,” McGraw said. “These are marked patrol cars that are equipped with radar units, and are heavy-duty vehicles designed and proven for law enforcement usage. They are government, contract-priced vehicles.”
The new units are redesigned and colorfully marked to be easily identifiable as Park County Sheriff patrol vehicles.
The fourth item on the Sheriff’s list, school resource officers, is still in the works.
“We still need to find funding for school resource officers,” McGraw said. “We want to work hard, though, to have that resolved by the beginning of the next school year this fall.”
McGraw also reported being very pleased with the public relations aspect of the department, and he said the community had been very supportive. McGraw says the department has received a considerable number of complimentary public comments regarding the professional and courteous nature of deputies while on patrol.
“That positive public input is really important, and it is also important for members of the force to know when their professionalism is noticed and appreciated,” McGraw said. “We had a very good group of law enforcement professionals before I got here, and we are glad to have recently added more to the mix.”
McGraw stated that, in an effort to be as transparent and responsive as possible through social media, the department will have both its Twitter and Facebook accounts open and running within days.
The Sheriff also praised the efforts of Undersheriff Steve Spodyak and new Park County Jail Commander Nathan Fidler in recent months.
“Steve was a very good choice, and I have patted myself on the back a time or two for making him Undersheriff,” McGraw chuckled. “Nathan, who came here from Summit County, has also been a very good addition at the jail.”
When asked what aspects of the job have been surprising, or especially challenging, McGraw said the time deputies are detained due to traffic accidents, and the time deputies spend managing mental illness issues have been taxing in terms of maintaining available manpower.
Other topics McGraw touched on included the “red flag” law and the unsolved Maggie Long murder case.
The “red flag” bill was recently signed into law by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. The measure gives judges the power to take firearms from people they believe are at high risk of harming themselves or others, making Colorado the 15th state to adopt the “red flag” law.
“The general concept behind the ‘red flag’ law is not necessarily a bad one,” McGraw said. “But it is a horribly-written piece of legislation that can present problems in terms of enforceability. It is more of a mental illness issue rather than a gun issue. As a department we will look at every case individually and do what we think is the safest thing for the community.”
One of the first steps McGraw took as the new Park County Sheriff was to hold a press conference and step up communication with the public regarding the Maggie Long murder case.
“Without going into detail, I feel very confident that this case will be solved,” McGraw asserted. “There was a lot of information generated by the press release and sketches released by our department.”