Telluride residents, community members and town officials mixed and mingled with three final candidates for Telluride chief marshal at a social event Thursday. Current chief marshal Jim Kolar announced his retirement earlier this year.
The three finalists for chief marshal include Vernon Knuckles from Montezuma County, Josh Comte from Newport Beach, California, and Joseph Deras out of Gilroy, California.
“There is a process to make sure that we have the proper staffing in place before that transition, as well as overlap to allow for handoffs,” said town manager, Ross Herzog. “It’s more setting ourselves up for success.”
Herzog explained the process involved in selecting the new chief marshal, noting that the hope is to have the selected candidate train alongside Kolar then officially take over the role by the end of the year.
“There is a technical panel scheduled for tomorrow (Friday) and that includes the sheriff, the marshal, superintendent of schools and Mountain Village chief of police,” Herzog said. “I also want to have one on one time with our director of human resources to go through all the candidates, and we have to look at feedback from all the department heads, staff, community input, and then from there, we’d like to make a decision to move forward.”
The search for a new chief marshal began in May when Drew Gregory of Peckham and McKenney, an executive search firm, was brought in to recruit for the role. Gregory recruited for Telluride town manager two years ago and he has also recruited for San Miguel County’s planning director and county manager.
“The town tells me what the town is looking for; what I should be looking for on their behalf,” Gregory said.
Gregory explained that he took input from Chief Kolar, Herzog, members of the marshal’s department, Mountain Village police chief Chris Broady and other stakeholders to develop a candidate profile and to begin extensive search for the role.
“Candidates had until Aug. 16 to apply. We ended up with 50 applicants from Colorado and 19 other states,” Gregory said. “In-state applicants were 14 percent of the pool. The rest of the 86 percent were out of state. My job is to take that number of 50 and cut it down to something more manageable.”
Gregory reported that he invited the top 12 candidates to do screening interviews and questionnaires. After that, he narrowed down to the top 10 candidates and presented them to Herzog and his team. Those 10 candidates were then cut down to Knuckles, Deras and Comte.
Throughout the meet and greet, town council members and residents asked the candidates a multitude of questions circling around topics of community policing, personal background, social issues and more.
All of the candidates expressed that if they were selected, their initial approach as chief marshal would be to observe and examine the current culture of the community and operations of the marshal’s department, and figure out what works and improve what doesn’t.
Comte explained that working in Newport Beach has helped him to be familiar with a resort and tourism-style atmosphere.
“Being involved in community development is a huge aspect,” Comte said, emphasizing the importance of community involvement and relationships.
Gregory explained that Comte has been with the Newport Beach police department since 2005 and has worked as a detective sergeant there for the last two years. He has a criminal justice degree from Boise State University as well as a master’s in criminal justice administration.
Deras, from Gilroy, California, has been in law enforcement since at least 1991, Gregory said, and has been with the Gilroy police department since 2003.
“That’s a nice long tenure,” Gregory said. “He showed an upward progression from officer to sergeant to now, captain.”
Deras said that as chief marshal, he would work towards officer retention by offering further education and training programs, and creating a positive work environment with a “family” type atmosphere. He also spoke in support of community involvement and working as a partner with Telluride residents.
“We need to be involved as a community,” Deras said, noting that the police and community both have similar interests when it comes to safety.
“A good definition of leadership is to influence other people to work towards an achievable goal that we both agree on and I think public safety is probably one of the best examples of that,” Deras said. “You don't care how smart a cop is and what degree he has or how many initials he has after his name, as long as he is there to help you when you need it.”
Knuckles, out of Montezuma County, has supported the Telluride police department for the last five to six years during times of heavy tourism and festivals. Gregory said that Knuckles has been involved with the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office since 2011. He’s had experience with the Dolores County Sheriff’s Office dating back to 1992 and he was a police officer in Cortez for nine years. He’s also a graduate from the National FBI Academy.
“I think my big focus right off the bat would be engaging with the community, the council, business owners and trying to figure out what they see needs to be addressed and try to build that relationship with them” Knuckles said.
Knuckles added that he prefers a proactive approach to reducing crime rather than being reactionary.
“I kind of lean towards what's called the problem-oriented policing, which focuses on the problem before the problem becomes a crime,” he explained. “It involves collaboration with the community; people being involved to identify the problem and collectively coming up with how to deal with the problem.”
Herzog said that community involvement is at the forefront of the decision-making process.
“I'm looking for someone really community-based that wants to be a working chief, that is very proactive, not reactive to situations. Just someone that likes the social aspect of being out in the community, getting to know everyone,” Herzog said.