GREEN MOUNTAIN FALLS — On Monday, a Colorado Springs TV station carried this headline: “Burglary spree in Green Mountain Falls.”
For some in the small mountain town of fewer than 700, it was deja vu all over again.
Last week the town made international news when outlets aggregated local coverage about the “entire police force” resigning. That police force, however, consisted of just one full-time marshall and three volunteers. And as we reported last week, it wasn’t the end of the world for a town that’s been without a marshal before.
The May 2 KRDO report about a “burglary spree” in Green Mountain Falls that didn’t carry a byline but credited The Associated Press as a contributor was misleading, says El Paso County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Jacqueline Kirby, who was a source for the story.
“It gave the impression that these burglaries happened since the police force resigned,” she told The Colorado Independent. “That is not accurate.”
Kirby said the sheriff’s office took its last burglary report before the town marshall resigned.
“I will tell you all of these burglaries happened several weeks prior to the resignation of the police,” Kirby said.
Oh, and they also happened in Chipita Park, the next town over, and in surrounding areas — not Green Mountain Falls. The KRDO headline was later changed to reflect that. The station stuck with its coverage, dispatching a reporter to the area, where she clarified for a local broadcast, “this department resigned after the string of break-ins.”
On the job just two weeks, the new mayor of Green Mountain Falls, Jane Newberry, is already used to overblown coverage of the little town she now runs. On Monday, she allowed The Colorado Independent into her town’s locked-up police station to snoop around and inspect records of incident reports, daily field logs and other files left in the weeks before the marshal resigned.
The bottom line: Plenty of of traffic citations, verbal warnings and not much else.
On the ex-marshall’s desk was also a letter, dated April 14, to the new mayor and the town board of trustees.
“Currently, to the best of my knowledge, GMF is very quiet,” the letter began. “Our patrols have been preventative and designed to provide visibility and in hopes of observing activity in GMF and preventing criminal activity as well as traffic violations.”
On another desk was a phone with more than 20 new voice messages. People from as far away as New Jersey had been calling once they had heard the worldwide news about a sudden resignation of a small town’s police department. They were looking for jobs as cops, if any were available.
Standing near a filing cabinet in the vacant police office, Newberry lamented the latest news about burglaries in the surrounding area. She worries someone might be shopping these stories to reporters who might not provide the best context for readers and viewers.
“It means some really negative publicity and exaggeration of things that just aren’t quite so,” Newberry said. “There have been 18 burglaries, but they’ve been in the entire Ute Pass area. They’re not just Green Mountain Falls. And they’re prior to [the marshall] leaving.”
On April 20, Colorado Springs TV station FOX 21 had cited an “anonymous source” when it reported the “entire department quit over policy and unhappiness with the new mayor.” By the next day, the story had gone viral.
Now, after the latest headlines, Newberry — who came on as the new mayor with a slate of three new board members who ousted a majority of incumbents during an April 5 election — wonders if some in the town are sour, perhaps purposefully trying to stir up trouble.
“It starts to feel like they’re doing this to try and hurt the new board,” she said. “And you know what? In the big picture it doesn’t hurt the board. It just hurts the citizens.”
Newberry said she promised during her campaign to swear the marshall in if she was elected mayor and that his job was safe. But she said there had been discussion during the campaign about whether Green Mountain Falls should keep its local marshal.
“There are citizens who want them and citizens who don’t,” she said of a local police presence. “But part of the statutory obligation is to at least have some sort of law enforcement. That doesn’t necessarily mean 24-7 coverage, but it means that we take it seriously that the town is covered.”
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office is currently providing law enforcement coverage to Green Mountain Falls.
Asked if the new mayor would open the police files to anyone else who wanted to inspect them, she said, “To be honest, after the burn that I’ve gotten, the drama, part of me wants to say, yes, and part of me wants to say, ‘I’m so done.’”
The Green Mountain Falls town board will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. International media are invited to attend.