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From Mayberry to Megabucks

Sidebar by Ray James

Law Enforcement – April 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

In 1959, when Sheriff Harold Thonhoff had to pick up a man arrested in Phoenix, Arizona on a Chaffee County warrant, he wanted to leave Chaffee county with sufficient law enforcement protection. Thus, he enlisted the young deputy district attorney, Bob Rush, to travel with him. Rush now recalls that Salida was left with a few law officers, Police Chief Harry Cable and one or two others, and the county with the undersheriff and a deputy.

Sheriff Sgt. Chester Price, who worked first with the Salida Police Department and later with the county, remembers that Salida had six officers including Chief Cable, a night captain and four patrolmen. In addition the city of Salida supplied the night dispatcher at the sheriff’s office.

“That was me, when I was hired,” Price said.

“Harry told me to get a gun because I was a police officer, too.” Price did.

When he went to work for Sheriff Harold Thonhoff in 1955, Price made the third officer in the department. He says that no deputy was stationed in Buena Vista, instead the sheriff had sworn in several “special deputies” who would respond as needed to calls in the northern end of the county. The special deputies were volunteers who used their own vehicles on official business, as did the full-time officers. In return, special deputies got a mileage payment from the county when called into service.

A list of county bills published in the local newspaper in February, 1959, verifies Price’s memory. It shows just over $1,000 paid in monthly salaries for the three-man department plus $207.82 in expenses. Several payments of less than $20 were made to individuals, clearly expense checks for special deputies.

Retired Chaffee County Deputy Jim Roll recalls that dispatchers and jailers were “luxuries we couldn’t afford.” When he went to work for Sheriff Charles “Chirp” Berry in the mid-’60s six officers made up the department, including the sheriff.

The six handled the phones and dispatching and acted as jailers when needed. Patrols were unheard of; instead, those on duty worked in the office and left to answer calls for aid.

In an early intergovernmental agreement, the state provided the radio equipment that served the area, the county made space for it, and the city contributed the salary for the night dispatcher. If a matron was needed for the rare female prisoner, a deputy’s wife was pressed into service. The sheriff’s wife cooked for those in jail. An occasional occupant of the Chaffee slammer, since deceased, reported a jail dinner was one of the better meals available in town.

Chaffee County’s Costs

The published county ledger for the last six months of 1976 shows the sheriff’s office payroll and costs had jumped to $63,000 with an additional $7,000 in jail expenses. Patrols were still rare, however. Serving papers, attending the jail and dispatch work occupied most of the available hours.

By 1996, the county’s burgeoning population (by some estimates), prompted an increased law enforcement role for the sheriff’s department. Intensive paperwork handling requirements, new patrols, increased civil process service, and more jail handling had ballooned the budget to $812,000 a year. That pays for the salaries for the sheriff and undersheriff, eight deputies, four jailers, one investigator, seven dispatchers and three administrative-records workers. The jail also employs a full-time cook, and a part-time cook. Food and other expenses of the department and the jail must also be covered.

In the 1970 census, Chaffee County’s population was 10,162. It is presently estimated at 15,000.

Salida’s Costs

In 1955, Salida had six officers including Chief Cable, a night captain and four patrolmen. In addition the city of Salida supplied the night dispatcher at the sheriff’s office. In 1959, Salida still had the same force, which cost $2,125 a month including insurance and pensions.

In 1970, ten people staffed the department, including a code enforcement officer, at a monthly salary expense of $7,150.

In 1996, the Salida Police Department has 17 officers, including two code enforcement officers, and two part-time administrative personnel (both are full-time city employees who also work in other city departments part of the time. The department requires a budget of $816,000 a year.

Code enforcement does parking control, animal control and various code enforcement issues (itinerant salesmen, etc.). Both of Salida’s code enforcement officers are POST-certified.

In 1950, Salida was home to 4,553 residents. Its present population is estimated at 5,500.

Buena Vista’s Costs

In 1959, Buena Vista had a police chief and one patrol officer that cost the town $11,190 a year. There were about 1,400 residents at the time.

By 1977, the population had grown to 2,015 and the budget for the chief of police and three patrol officers was $54,316.

In 1996, the Buena Vista Police Department has seven full-time officers including the chief of police, one administrative person, one half-time code enforcement officer, and six reserve officers. The total yearly budget is about $412,000. Town Clerk Julie Hupper estimates the population at 2,500.

Anyone interested in researching law enforcement in Central Colorado will find the mother mode of information in Buena Vista. Town Clerk Julie Hupper can access budgets and even the names of the lawmen back to the 1880s.

–Ray James