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  Volume No. 16 Issue No. 7 July 2019  

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Bill Radford

  Sheriff’s deputies focus on rural areas
  By Bill Radford

   When El Paso County Sheriff Deputy Scott Brettell heard of plans for a new unit focused on the rural parts of the county, he was intrigued.
   Brettell, who lives in eastern El Paso County, had seen what he considered a disparity in services provided by the Sheriff's Office; a deputy sent on a call in the country –- Calhan, Yoder, Rush, etc. –- would hurry back as soon as possible to Falcon, "where there was life and Starbucks and civilization,” he said. There seemed to be a sense that the people in those far-flung areas mattered less than those in the more-populated parts, Brettell said.
   So when the Rural Enforcement & Outreach Unit formed in 2015, "I was all about putting in for it,” he said.
   Sgt. Emory "Ray" Gerhart pushed for the formation of the unit. ”The idea from the get-go was to have a dedicated group of deputies who wanted to work out here,” Gerhart said. By "here," he meant the large, rural expanses of eastern El Paso County –- an area of 1,200 square miles. Gerhart said he also lives in the country "on 40 acres with two horses I don't ride.”
   The Sheriff's Office website details the mission and duties of the rural unit: "As a direct link to the citizens of the rural regions of eastern El Paso County, REO’s focus is to develop relationships with these residents to address issues specific to the culture and area. This includes investigating illegal marijuana growing operations, mediating fence line disputes, assisting with livestock issues, investigating equine abuse/neglect and encouraging education relating to equine health. Additionally, REO deputies are primary responders to calls-for-service in much of Patrol District 4, which covers the eastern portion of El Paso County, investigating any criminal event regardless of topic.”
   The unit consists of Gerhart, Brettell, who is his lead deputy, and four other deputies. However, one of those deputies is devoted solely to the pot problem and another one is a school resource officer.
   Last year brought new limits on marijuana home grows and a beefed-up effort to crack down on those who violate those limits in El Paso County. The rural unit leads that effort –- and Gerhart sees definite progress.
   There will always be the local guy, who is a little over the plant count –- "not a big deal," Gerhart said. They're after the big fish for the most part –- and those fish are swimming away as grow after grow is targeted. "People are leaving El Paso County because they realize it’s not conducive to their drug-trafficking enterprise," he said.
   Pot, of course, is not the unit's only focus. There is theft, reckless drivers, neglected animals –- and animals that pose a danger on the roadways.
   "One thing we've been struggling with for the last year and a half is livestock owners who fail to perform adequate repairs on their fences," Gerhart said. Colorado does have an open-range policy; but that doesn't mean people can let their animals hang out on the roadway and pose a danger to motorists, he said.
   "You have to keep your animals off the roadway," he said. "If they get out by accident, we understand. But after multiple times, we're going to start documenting that and probably give you a ticket."
   Cows will show up on the roadways, but more often it is goats.
   "Hobby goat owners are becoming the bane of our existence," Gerhart said. "People throw 50 goats behind a three-strand barbed-wire fence and have no idea why they won't stay in."
   By devoting more time to rural residents, the unit has been able to take care of "a lot of habitual problem children, for lack of a better word," Gerhart said. That includes people who used to call every day with the same issue. Before, he said, ”Patrol deputies would say do this and drive off. We take it a step further: You've got to do this, and I'm going to help you do it."
   Law enforcement in the area used to be reactive, Brettell said. The unit's approach is proactive –- getting to know the residents, offering answers, providing or guiding them to resources.
   "The people that live in Yoder, Rush, Ellicott, they don't want a big-city cop coming out to deal with their problem," Brettell said. "They want a face and a name they know." Many of the calls for service that Brettell and Gerhart receive come not through dispatch but directly to their cellphones from people who have gotten to know them.
   Gerhart calls Brettell "the soul, the heart and the embodiment of the outreach portion of this." The Sheriff's Office honored Brettell for going the extra mile to save Christmas one year for a single mom and her daughters. Just a couple of days before Christmas, a "porch pirate" had taken a box that contained gifts from Sea World, including a large, stuffed Shamu toy. Brettell called Sea World to try to buy the toy and get it shipped in time for Christmas, but was told expedited shipping wasn't possible. He persisted, though, and got the toy –- and a Barbie Sea World play set –- in time for Christmas; Sea World, touched by his holiday spirit, even donated the items.
   In another instance, Brettell put together the money and resources to redo the interior of a home where a young girl who had been paralyzed in a traffic accident lived so that she could get around in her wheelchair.
   “Typically, the people we help don't ask for help," Brettell said. "Most of the people we run into, they started off with a hope and a dream; and, through a disability or whatever found themselves in a hard time.”
El Paso Country Sheriff Deputy Scott Brettell has been with the Rural Enforcement & Outreach Unit since it started in 2015. Photo by Bill Radford
Sgt. Emory "Ray" Gerhart of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office pushed for the formation of the Rural Enforcement & Outreach Unit. Photo by Bill Radford
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