Sheriff candidate says office needs to shift focus from tickets to catching bad guys

by Jack Minor —


A local law-enforcement official, who is one of the candidates in the running to replace Weld County Sheriff John Cooke says he believes the department is more concerned with raising revenue from writing traffic tickets than protecting the citizens of Weld County from dangerous fugitives.


Keith Olson, the Chief Investigator for the Weld County District Attorney’s office is one of four Republican candidates to throw their hat in the ring for the nomination. Cooke is barred by term limits from running again in 2014 when his current term expires.


Olson has a long career with law-enforcement, having spent 28 years with the Greeley Police Department before moving over the District Attorney’s office in 2009 where he currently serves as chief investigator. He has also served as a Weld sheriff’s deputy for three years.


Cooke has garnered national attention with his strong stand for the Second Amendment rights of the citizens who elected him. He has gone on record as promising to defend the rights of Weld County residents by refusing to enforce a series of gun control laws passed by the Democratic controlled legislature.


Olson has said he stands behind Cooke’s decision against the gun control laws, and agrees that they are unenforceable.


“With these new gun control laws the legislators set up a bunch of windmills around Weld County and expect us to be a bunch of Don Quixote chasing them and that’s not going to happen,” Olson said. “I do agree with Sheriff Cooke that he has a duty to refuse to enforce laws are unconstitutional.”


He said he also supports the idea of an armed citizenry as well as the lawsuit Cooke has filed against the state over the gun control laws.


“I’ve recommended that soldiers stationed out here at the Greeley airport should get their concealed carry permits,” he explained. “I tell them to carry firearms, the more armed citizens in a movie theater, in a mall or at a parade the safer I feel for my family. I’ve been a strong advocate for arming the citizenry and strengthening our rights to carry concealed or open carry for that matter.”


However, if voters think that if elected sheriff, Olson would keep the department a carbon copy of Cooke’s administration they are sorely mistaken.


Olson has said he believes Cooke is making some serious decisions that are dangerous to the citizens in Weld County by his allocation of resources.


“We have a huge number of fugitives that have been found to have committed crimes and the judge has issued an arrest warrant, however these people are not even being pursued,” Olson said. “We have 12,000 fugitives in Weld County and we don’t even have a fugitive unit pursuing them on a full-time basis. By contrast, the county has over $1 million budgeted for a traffic unit that staffs 10 officers.”


“In my mind these criminals are continuing to victimize the citizens of Weld County.”


He went on to say there is a large number of sex offenders in our communities that are being allowed to roam free while the Sheriff’s office are writing tickets to help generate revenue for the county.


“In the budget report of 2012 the sheriff’s department stated there are 79 individuals wanted for sexual assault on children who are currently on the list of fugitives in the county,” Olson said. “To me that is abhorrent and I get very passionate knowing that people who victimize children are not being pursued and that disturbs me. Especially when we consider we have people running radar while those predators are among our community and are not being pursued. ”


“The traffic unit raises annual revenue of between$ 200- 400,000 annually, so in my mind when we’re standing up a traffic unit we are taking into consideration the amount of revenue that’s going to be generated.”


Cooke has said he takes issue with Olson’s suggestion that the county is not interested in pursuing fugitives. He notes that many of the outstanding warrants are actually issued by Greeley for relatively minor offenses.


“When he talks about those 12,000 warrants, he is tossing in all of the Greeley municipal warrants as well,” Cooke said. “This includes warrants such as dog at large and people who haven’t paid their speeding tickets. This accounts for about 3,000 warrants. He wants to spend County money to track down municipal offenders. That is a total waste of County money and not good management.”


Cooke also claimed the sheriff’s office is taking serious steps to arrest dangerous criminals in the county.


““I went to the County commissioners last year and said we needed full-time people to work in a fugitive unit. Last year we got it approved for this year’s budget. We currently have one full time person in the unit and another who is nearly full time.”


He explained that the county also has individuals working in a fugitive unit as part of a collaborative effort with the US Marshalls. The officers are reimbursed by the Marshalls office and are able to go into other counties to help arrest fugitives wanted in the county.


“This task force made the highest number of arrests on all of our warrants in several counties including Denver and Arapahoe County. Even though they weren’t officially working full-time for the county as they are being reimbursed by the US marshals office, they are putting in full-time hours and make a lot of arrests.”


Cooke also took umbrage at the suggestion the department was more interested in writing tickets than saving lives and putting criminals behind bars.


“If he thinks were only doing this for money he obviously is not looking at the budget,” Cooke said. “We are far below our revenue projections on traffic tickets. If we were interested in revenue I would send all my officers out on Hwy 85 or I-25 and they could write tickets from the beginning of their shift to the end.


He said one of the reason for having 10 officers as part of a traffic unit compared to two on a fugitive unit is because of one simple reason, Weld County has a large number of traffic fatalities.


“He must not care about all the people were dying in the County. We are always either number one or number two in traffic fatalities in the state,” Cooke said. “In 2011 we were number two in the state with around 38 deaths. El Paso County, which was number one, had 42 deaths, but they have twice the population of Weld County.”


Cooke explained his department increased the number of officers in the traffic unit to help prevent the large number of fatalities on county roads.


“When you compare traffic deaths to the number of homicides we have which is between one and four per year, I don’t think it’s a wise move to cut her traffic unit,” Cooke explained. “There was one year Weld County had 93 fatal accidents and in response we increased the number of traffic people from 5 to 10 because that was our number one health issue and safety concern.”

“The year after we increased the officers on traffic patrol we were able to get that number back down to around 43 and now we’re hovering around the high 30s. I can’t imagine how many fatalities we  would have if we cut the traffic unit like he is proposing.”


Olson said if elected the tone of his administration will be to be more responsive to the needs of Weld County rather than the needs of the county treasury.


“For a long-time Weld County has had a sinister reputation among the rest of the state because of our crime and gang violence. We are starting to turn the corner only because we focused on doing what is right, and that is get as many criminals off the street as possible.”

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