Sheriff Tom McGraw

Photo by Lori Bennett/The Flume)

Tom McGraw dropped by The Flume office in Bailey Monday morning for an extensive conversation about all things pertaining to the Park County Sheriff’s Office.

Shortly after his election as Park County Sheriff in 2018, McGraw vowed to establish a great working relationship with the local newspaper. And without exception, he has steadfastly honored that commitment.

McGraw, in fact, made a variety of sweeping commitments upon his election to the office – most all of which were made public on these very pages. His first extensive interview with The Flume was conducted and published during the week of Nov. 18, 2018.

In that interview, the new Sheriff boldly rolled off a lengthy list of ambitious goals that he intended to pursue. A condensed version of that list is as follows:

A. To initiate a substantial pay raise for his deputies; B. To add considerably more deputies to his staff; C. To upgrade the department’s fleet of patrol vehicles; D. To improve the relationship between the department and the community, including the local media; E. To honor the memory of Nate Carrigan, as well as other deputies who bravely served on the day of his tragic death; F. To honor Carrigan’s family members; G. To provide School Resource Officers for the safety of Park County students and staff; and H. To make the PCSO a more friendly and desirable place to work.

Today, there are more deputies in the department and their starting wage is about $9,000 more (annually) than what they were paid in 2018. The revamping of the patrol vehicle fleet is almost complete. About 14 new vehicles have been purchased, and several more are on the way.

The department is more visible within the community, and more transparent in its dealings with local media. A public remembrance is held annually for Nate Carrigan, and an annual golf tournament is held to honor him and his family members.

A scholarship fund has been established for high school students in Carrigan’s name, and as many as four local high school students will receive scholarships to attend trade schools or colleges this year.

School districts in Platte Canyon and South Park enjoy the protection of School Resource Officers, and morale within the PCSO is reportedly very good.

“It is really good to see our PCSO personnel happy to come to work each day, and there has been somewhat of a culture change for the better within the department,” McGraw said. “We have been receiving a lot of public support, and a lot of compliments from citizens lately. So that is a positive trend.”

Catching bad guys

Crime-solving is also apparently going extremely well under McGraw’s leaderdship, as three unsolved murders have been cracked and arrests made since his taking the job. Each of these solved cases have been well-documented in The Flume.

“We still have one to go,” McGraw said. “And I can assure you that Maggie Long’s case is still very much in our thoughts. There is good work that has occurred on the case recently, and I will be briefed on that work later this week. I am still very optimistic that something will break, and that Maggie’s murder will eventually be solved.”

An arrest of a man with Bailey ties was recently made in Iowa, and the arresting officer contacted PCSO to see if by chance the man might have been involved in the Long murder.

“It turns out that he was not a suspect in the Long case, but we appreciated that officer’s efforts in contacting us,” McGraw said.

McGraw said that any time there are multiple suspects in a high profile case such as the Long case, the probability that someone will eventually talk is very good. McGraw also stated that technology continues to evolve, and that new technology could eventually provide a break in the case as well.

The Sheriff also discussed unexpected challenges brought on by COVID-19, and how the department has coped with them over the last year.

Staying healthy

“Our goal, as you might expect, was to keep the community and our staff as healthy as possible throughout the ordeal,” McGraw said. “One of our biggest concerns was the County Jail. We have been averaging about thirty or forty inmates per day, and keeping prisoners well has been a priority for us. Commander Nathan Fiddler, who runs the jail, has done a hell of a job of keeping people healthy and deserves a ton of credit for the job he has done.”

McGraw explained that the vast majority of prisoners at the County Jail are being held for federal offenses, and that the county receives considerable income for temporarily housing them.

“The jail is built to hold many more prisoners than we have there right now, but we are trying to keep the numbers where they are in light of health concerns,” McGraw said.  

McGraw was also complimentary of local businesses, and how they have dealt with unprecedented challenges – both financial and health-related – during the viral pandemic.

“We only got a handful of calls from businesses who were having trouble getting customers to wear masks,” McGraw said. “I think business owners throughout the county did a nice job of using common sense and doing the best they could to deal with COVID-19-related issues. I also think our county commissioners, and the county as a whole, have handled the situation very well. The Towns of Alma and Fairplay also deserve credit for how they have coped with the COVID crisis.”

Ongoing challenges

McGraw is understandably pleased by the overall state of the PCSO, as well as the department’s progress as it pertains to the goals he set and commitments he made upon taking the job.

But even so, McGraw is still looking ahead to several ongoing challenges.

“I do have some frustration regarding county funding, and the fact that we have not been able to accomplish more,” McGraw said. “But I understand the county’s challenges. I just wish we could draw in more businesses or tap into more revenue somehow.”

According to McGraw, the county recently conducted a study to determine what the funding and personnel needs of the PCSO were as compared to those in other like counties around the state.

“I believe that study revealed that we need more deputies to adequately cover all of our shifts, and to adequately cover a county of this size,” McGraw said. “I am expecting to find out more and to have more discussions at the county level about the study very soon.”

The PCSO is also facing new challenges with regards to a growing population of full-time residents throughout the county, as well as increased numbers of visitors during the summer months.

Those challenges are only enhanced by infrastructural limitations and increased traffic on U.S. Highway 285.

“People really get frustrated with traffic on U.S. Highway 285, and road rage is up right now,” McGraw said. “My concern is that the entire county is only going to get busier and busier.”

Other challenges have included an increased number of domestic violence cases since the onset of COVID-19, and the serious injuries sustained by a Park County deputy in a car crash.

“Domestic violence is still a concern, and the number of domestic violence cases is still pretty high,” McGraw said. “But our victim’s advocates within the department do a great job, and more and more deputies are getting training in handling domestic violence incidents. I think we are doing a better job as a result of that training, but those cases are always difficult.”

McGraw said his “worst day on the job” occurred in late August when one of his deputies was severely injured in an intentional head-on collision caused by a fleeing domestic violence suspect.

“It’s my worst nightmare to have a deputy injured on the job,” McGraw said. “When I arrived at the scene, it did not look good at all. I was just incredibly relieved to hear the deputy say something ...” His injuries were severe, and he is still recovering today from the crash.

Most recently, McGraw and five of his deputies attended funeral services for slain Boulder police officer, Eric Talley, who lost his life March 22 during a mass shooting at a King Soopers in Boulder.

“It was a somber event, but it was very well done,” McGraw said. “All of us who attended felt honored to be there,”

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