By Chelsea McNerney-Martinez
MONTE VISTA— Monte Vista Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Huff along with Corporal Eugene Ortega and Sergeant Michael Martinez with the MVPD answered community members’ questions at last Wednesday’s Coffee with a Cop. Huff discussed some code issues, the needs of the animal shelter and youth with community service hours. Martinez and Ortega discussed some recent crime trends and some needs in the department. Rio Grande County Sheriff Candidate and Police Chief of South Fork Don McDonald was present to discuss his goals if elected.
Huff gave a brief update on his battle to get the train cars on Acequia removed explaining he has recently labeled them with red HAZMAT tags. He also stated the property he calls “The Bates Motel” also off of Acequia, has been sold and he is currently “working on a big chicken house” issue. “The only thing I can say is keep talking to your neighbors about code enforcement and the watering restrictions,” Huff stated, encouraging cooperation and communication as an important method for improving conditions. Huff also took the time throughout the meeting to praise the police department and the officers present, noting he is very proud of the department and he values what they do every day.
City Councilor Kathy Lorenz thanked Huff for bringing a young person completing community service hours to the Visitors Center to help with cleaning up around the building. “He’s a good kid… very polite… he did an excellent job,” Huff stated. He added if people in the community know of non-business locations where people are unable to handle their weeds to let him know for potential community service hours. Resident Wanda Hawman suggested the community garden, which she oversees on her property.
Ortega explained MVPD has recently been dealing with thefts again, including the recent theft of a wallet, cell phone and two firearms. Martinez explained there is a fake business called Wisekey recruiting employees in Monte Vista. The PD has encountered at least two people who were recruited into the false job which sends packages to local homes from the Denver area to be shipped to people who supposedly ordered the contents in other locations but the package contents are stolen items. Martinez added a statewide “click it or ticket” campaign recently finished and also yielded several DUI charges as well.
Local attorney Gene Farish asked if the PD has seen any issues with homeless people, as the topic has been significant in Alamosa and Saguache County. Ortega answered homelessness hasn’t really presented a major problem to the department. They occasionally come across someone drifting through town who they refer to La Puente or are just passing through and move on quickly. Jennifer Becker, who was recently named as the new director of the Monte Vista Emergency Food Bank beginning on July 1 and is a longtime volunteer, stated in the last four months she has only seen about two homeless people come in requesting food. Huff encouraged attendees to “think from the heart first” regarding issues of homelessness and praised the MVPD efforts to patrol every neighborhood in town.
Martinez also encouraged people to keep being “the eyes and ears” of the department in the community, reminding attendees MVPD can’t be present throughout the entire city and citing examples of recent incidents where observant citizens assisted with solving crimes or finding perpetrators.
Pastor Bob Galey asked how the officers were dealing with the transitions in city hall, with offices being moved to keep the entire police department on the east side of the building. Ortega noted although there was some resistance at first, overall the department is functioning better now. Galey asked about the needs of the police department, with Martinez answering “SWAT vests,” hopefully something lighter than the ones they are utilizing now and outer patrol vests. Martinez noted the police chief has been making efforts to get the police more resources than they had previously as well as more trainings and team building opportunities. “I can honestly say the chief wants the best for this community and this department,” Huff added, “These guys are too humble…What they get paid for what they do is an understatement.”
Pastor Wayne Wittner asked about the police presence and efforts in local schools. Ortega answered the chief has been looking at options to hopefully have a school resource officer in the district for the upcoming school year, and even before that the officers were making an effort to be seen at the schools two to three times a day, to reassure the students and staff they are making their best effort to ensure school safety.
Huff also mentioned the animal shelter’s need for dog food and added he will also be asking for a dog food donation when people want to pick up their impounded dogs from the shelter, in addition to the dog’s vaccination record.
McDonald then spoke, reminding those in attendance that Rio Grande County has “11,798 sets of eyes and ears, we all need to do our job.” McDonald encouraged cooperation and communication between law enforcement and the community, explaining he had an uphill battle when he took over in South Fork but he earned the community’s trust, as he hopes to do if elected Rio Grande County sheriff. “You need to see the sheriff out all the time… not just when it’s convenient,” McDonald said. He explained he has 21 years in the Army, retiring as a first sergeant and has been an EMT and fire captain in addition to his years of law enforcement experience, “I’ve been there, I’ve done that... and I love doing it.” McDonald praised the progress and leadership within MVPD and reminded the attendees of his love for the Valley and his dedication to being a working sheriff cooperating with other departments.