Good Police work is complicated. On one side, heavy-handed enforcement can alienate the community. On the other hand, weak enforcement and overly-flexible policing can lead to a community not being fully protected. It’s a very fine line. That line is even finer when the community is a “Resort Town” that sees thousands of visitors weekly.
In another resort town (Napa California where I spent 18 years growing up) the police struggle every day balancing the need to protect the community with significant tourism based on fine wines. I also worked in Baltimore for over 25 years, where the police presence is everywhere in some areas, and nowhere in others. The high murder and crime rates in Baltimore tell a dismal story.
What’s clear to me after 18 months in this valley is that the Fraser/Winter Park Police have found that magical fine line and have managed to stay on it for a very long time. Most tourists hardly notice the police presence here while residents feel comfortable leaving doors unlocked and are often on a first name basis with many of the officers.
To test my observation of the police, I visited with Commander Donnie Ransom in his office at the Winter Park station. What was scheduled for a 1-hour interview ended up lasting over 2 hours and was followed up by a ride-along. I asked him a wide range of questions, with a focus on learning how the police in this growing community managed to stay on the “fine line”. Here’s what I learned.
A few facts first. Currently there are 10 officers, plus 2 administrative staff. They patrol from the Mary Jane entrance to County Road 8. But they also respond to calls outside that territory and support the Sheriff department as requested. Their current headquarters are in the Winter Park Station Building, which is at the first light coming into Winter Park. They are expanding to new space, but it’s just across the hall from their current space.
Commander Ransom, who joined the force in 2012 and grew up in Grand County, suggested I call him Donnie. If I had done this in Baltimore to any officer, I probably would have found myself in some type of confrontation. He assured me that calling him Donnie was just fine. This was also the first indication of how the police want to interact with everyone in Fraser/Winter Park.
With the friendly, informal approach to the public, it’s easy to overlook the high degree of professionalism, training and leadership within the police force. The leadership starts with the Chief of Police, Glen Trainor, who’s been the Chief for 14 years. From my few contacts with Glen, his style is friendly, open and very professional. From all accounts, he’s recruited well, installed good technologies and put in place policies that match our community’s character. Crimes usually go un-noticed by the public and violence is rare.
It wasn’t always like this in Grand County. According to the Grand County Historical Society, in 1953 the County Sheriff was kidnapped while trying to assist a car stuck in the snow on Highway 40. It turns out the car was stolen and that 2 youths were reported to be armed and dangerous. One of the youths pulled a .45 automatic on Sheriff VanPelt and forced him into the back seat of his own cruiser. After a car chase with other police units, Sheriff VanPelt was able to regain his gun and shot both the armed youths. Sheriff VanPelt also escaped death in 1961 when he was shot by a convicted murderer, Delmar Dean Spooner. While VanPelt survived the shooting, 2 other officers were not so lucky as Spooner killed them. He was captured a short time later.
On my ride-along, I saw technologies that everyone should be aware the police use. The first is their radar which can track your speed while their car is in motion and even if you’re driving toward them (I always thought they had to be behind you when in motion). Secondly, they’ve used body cameras since 2016. We often think of body cameras as a tool to document actions that go wrong. But the Fraser/Winter Park Police also use camera footage for training purposes and to improve their interactions with individuals and crowds. Finally, the County has developed a sophisticated communication center that allows officers to be immediately informed when a situation occurs and speeds up their response time. The dispatch number is 970-725-3549 or 911 for emergencies.
The Fraser/Winter Park Police Mission statement follows along the nine principles of policing developed 2 centuries ago by Sir Robert Peel in England (and sited by the NY police as a major factor in significantly reducing their crime rates). How these policies are implemented and used every day are what allow the police to stay on that fine line. Donnie detailed for me the hiring process for me and what he looks for in candidates. Once you get beyond the basic requirements, I would sum up Donnie’s (and Glen’s) hiring strategy as finding officers with: good communication skills (especially for working with local businesses and their staffs on handling difficult situations): using good judgments in difficult situations; having a willingness to learn/train and; having the ability to interact easily with a wide range of people.
By the end of my interview, I arrived at several conclusions. First, don’t speed as these radars will record you from many directions. Second, feel free to get to know the police as they patrol the town and using their first names is ok. And lastly, my original impression of the Fraser/Winter Park Police was correct. They have found that magical fine line. Something we can all appreciate.
And thanks to Commander Ransom (Donnie) and the Grand County Historical Society for their time.
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