Carbondale's community connector

‘Shop with a cop’ part of a broader philosophy

Locations: News Published

By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff

While distrust of law enforcement increases nationwide, Carbondale cops do double duty as notaries, locksmiths, driving instructors and special event security.

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In an effort to further emphasize that small-town approach, the Carbondale Police Department took it a step further with its first “Shop with a Cop” event. Chief Gene Schilling, Officers Mike Zimmerman and Brandyn Rup and some of the office staff offered needy kids some extra support for the holidays. The model — laid out by The REACH Foundation and practiced by the Glenwood Springs Police Department — requires a larger shopping outlet, so the event took place at Walmart. With support from Alpine Bank, Holy Cross and Umbrella Roofing, the youngsters chose gifts for their friends and family and were encouraged to get something for themselves, as well.

In the process, they built a bond with officers they may someday encounter in a less pleasant circumstance.

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“It shows that we’re all in this together — people to people,” Zimmerman said. “Our job is the safety and security of the community, but we can’t do that alone. It’s so much easier and more fun when we get to empower others.”

And while the kids seemed to have a blast, the officers may have been the main beneficiaries.

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“Sometimes it’s refreshing to take a break from everybody else’s bad day and make somebody’s day instead,” Rup said.

The bad days, too

Of course, no matter how safe and secure our small town may appear, our officers are eventually going to run into conflict — criminal or otherwise. That’s where Critical Incident Training can make a big difference.

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“Almost everyone is going through something when they come in contact with police, and we’re expected to fix it,” said Officer Luke Blue. “In a lot of situations, taking that extra moment can be the most important part.”

Officer Kelli Litzu, the most recent member of the department to go through the training, had that message underscored almost immediately when she responded to a report of a woman threatening to jump into traffic.

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“Had I not been to that training a week prior, she would have been in cuffs, because she swung at me,” Litzu said. “She’s not a criminal and she shouldn’t be treated that way.”

And while most of what she learned was ostensibly focused on mental health, she’s finding it applies more often than not.

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“It’s about getting people to understand you’re there to help, not to hurt,” she said. “I would like to see every officer CIT trained.”

Indeed, she’s working on becoming a coach to teach the philosophy.

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And that’s precisely the approach Schilling would like to see.

“You have to police the community the way they’d like to be policed,” he said.

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