Law enforcement

A photo of Delta Police Department and Delta County Sheriff's Office vehicles at a crime scene earlier this year.

On Nov. 26, Delta County Sheriff Mark Taylor, Delta Police Chief Luke Fedler and Commander Jesse Cox all attended a special meeting called by the Delta City Council. The meeting addressed the options of the county’s law enforcement agencies following the failure of Ballot Issue 1A, “Back the Badge,” which would have enabled a tax initiative for public safety. The tax would have given law enforcement extra funds to spend on resources that would allow each force to be able to do their jobs better, such as more people, better equipment, jail maintenance and school resource officers.

According to Fedler and Delta County Administrator Robbie LaValley, Delta County has the option to go for the public safety tax again for the 2020 election cycle, but a secondary option for Delta would be to go for their own individual sales tax exclusively for the Delta Police Department.

The main advantage Fedler talked about with the individual tax option was that, if passed, the tax could go into effect in April and they wouldn’t have to wait until the beginning of 2021 to start seeing improvements.

Sheriff Taylor told the council that his preference was to run for the county-wide tax again next November and to better educate the public on why it’s important.

“We all have to work together as a team and that’s the only way really to battle this issue, the influx of drugs in our communities, the crimes and the things that are happening,” Taylor said. “It’s not just a City of Delta issue. The criminals from the City of Delta are out in the county and vice-versa, they’re in Cedaredge, they’re in Hotchkiss, and this is an issue that we need to embrace as a team and try to fight, not as individuals.”

LaValley said that, in addition to potentially causing issues among the county’s law enforcement agencies, she didn’t think people in Delta would pass a sales tax so soon after a similar county-wide tax attempt, particularly after “Back the Badge” failed.

“I think it puts a negative factor on it because you’re asking the voters to vote for another percentage and they already voted for one,” LaValley said.

Delta Mayor Ron Austin and Councilman Nathan Clay also recommended holding off on the individual tax and going for “Back the Badge” again in November of 2020 for similar reasons to Taylor’s.

“We have to work together,” Austin said. “We are all an integral part of this whole process.”

Fedler named his main concerns about waiting, which included the suspension of crime preventing programs in order to get more officers “on the street.” At this point, the DPD has had to shut down the detective department with the exception of one person. Fedler has had to step in as an acting detective because of staff shortages. Additionally, the school resource officer program in currently suspended.

The DPD is the only police department in Delta County that wasn’t going to use any of the public safety tax income to give their officers pay raises, Fedler said. He said at the meeting and in past meetings that pay raises wouldn’t be a priority at the time, as they wouldn’t help the community. According to Fedler, the extra money would have provided them the opportunity to replace outdated equipment and vehicles and to hire more officers.

During the conversation, Austin asked Sheriff Taylor if part of the proposed safety tax would have been set aside for expansion of the jail. Taylor said that was not the plan, but some money would go into maintenance.

Right now, the walls are all cinderblocks, and if there’s a leak, a part of the wall would have to be cut out in order for the leak to be repaired, Taylor said. According to Taylor, the sheriff’s department has had incidents where inmates cause a flood by clogging toilets and they’ve had evidence in their evidence room contaminated by wastewater.

The Delta County Jail in its current condition holds 56 inmates “comfortably,” Taylor said. After that, they have people sleeping on the floor.

According to Taylor, the jail has been constantly near capacity or over capacity since January, and that for the first time in 30 years, they’ve had to introduce arrest standards.

Austin questioned how the issue of the full jail would be addressed if the public safety tax passes next time, particularly if an increase in law enforcement causes more people to be arrested and placed in the already crowded jail.

Taylor said he wouldn’t let the county be in danger due to a full jail and that he would work closely with the court system to speed things along with inmates’ cases.

“There’s individuals that need to be incarcerated, that need to be in our jail, and we’ll always make room in our jail for community safety,” Taylor said. “If we have to work with the district attorney’s office, the judges, the public defenders, if we have to be more aggressive in trying to get the judicial system to move a little quicker, we’ll certainly do that because that’s a big problem right now is that the judicial system is basically a standstill.”

At another time, Taylor said, in the case of police departments going after individual taxes, it would be possible for the sheriff’s office to do a tax initiative as well, but Taylor doesn’t want to do it that way due to his standpoint that Delta County law enforcement needs to stick together and work in unity.

In the meantime, Fedler, Cox, Taylor and everyone on the council agreed that the best way to proceed for any public safety tax in the future is to better educate the public on the importance of the extra funds.

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