The three candidates running for La Plata County Sheriff have different ideas about how the department has functioned in the past four years and what should be done to make the region safer for its residents.
Dean Mize, Charles Hamby and incumbent Sean Smith are all campaigning for sheriff this fall.
Smith, a Democrat, said the Sheriff’s Office has become more attuned to the people it serves since he took office nearly four years ago, taking about 10,000 more calls for service than the office averaged before he took over from then-sheriff Duke Schirard. That increase demonstrates a reconciliation with the community, he said.
“I think the bar was set really low in terms of community connection,” Smith said of his predecessor’s administration. “I think the community should expect their sheriff to be an active community member.”
Hamby, a Republican, said decisions being made currently in the Sheriff’s Office are based on politics rather than a will to uphold the Constitution, state and local laws. Smith’s actions, such as starting bicycle patrols and halting enforcement of a no-camping ban, are political rather than impartial, Hamby said.
“I’m a cop,” Hamby said. “I’ve got 30 years’ law enforcement experience and my decisions are based on upholding the Constitution, keeping our citizens safe and not making decisions based on politics.”
Mize, who is an unaffiliated candidate, said the Sheriff’s Office has a fractured relationship with those it serves, something he would work to fix in his first few months. That change must come from within the department, and it starts with reinventing interactions between deputies and the people they pull over to make it clear officers “are there truly to make it a better county,” he said.
“I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, I want to put a really strong spoke in it,” Mize said “I don’t see myself as a guy who’s going to change the system.”
La Plata County Sheriff’s Office is the largest law enforcement agency in Southwest Colorado, employing more than 100 people with an annual budget of about $15 million. Sheriffs are elected to four-year terms; Smith was first elected in 2014. There are no term limits.
Smith said the leadership he has demonstrated in the past four years qualifies him to run the office for another term. His opponents, he said, do not have the administrative experience to run such a large department. He has a degree in public safety administration, something he said puts him a notch above the rest.
“I think I have recent and relevant education, and I have more management experience,” Smith said.
But when asked about his experience, a question posed by readers, Hamby said he’s shown his leadership ability in his current job as a captain with the Southern Ute Tribal Rangers. Just one ranger left in the past four years, something that Hamby said is “a good reflection on my leadership.”
“I’ve tried to lead by example by understanding what the objective of my job has been and perform that job to the best of my abilities,” Hamby said.
Mize, who graduated from the police academy in 2016, said his experience as a businessman gives him the knowledge and experience needed to run the Sheriff’s Office. He said he has experience as the person “behind the steering wheel” when police pull someone over, a viewpoint that he said gives him a perspective lifelong officers can’t grasp.
“This job isn’t about being a guy who’s hard-nosed and told what to do,” Mize said. “We want a guy who is proven to make decisions now. Someone that is a proven leader, proven in business.”[asset:2]