Berthoud considers changes for police department in light of negative review

BERTHOUD, Colo. - Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith and the Town of Berthoud are considering using deputies to replace the town's police department in light of a negative review, sparked by a scandal involving a former officer and police chief.

The town's interim chief, John Feyen, also presented alternative plans at Tuesday night's council meeting to revamp the town's police department.

Not all of the plans, however, would call for 24-hour policing.

One idea calls for policing from 6:45 a.m. until 1:15 a.m., with the Larimer County Sheriff's Office providing service if needed overnight. Another idea calls for police staffing Monday through Friday, with the sheriff's office providing service on off hours. Other options call for 24-hour policing through a revamped Berthoud Police Department.

Based on Feyen's proposal for 24-hour policing, it would cost the town about $1.2 million in the first year to upgrade salaries, update equipment, provide additional training and upgrade technology.

"Things have comes leaps and bounds. We are no longer in the age of the big cheap tablets and crayons; we are technology driven and data driven for law enforcement. We are looking at more efficiencies and that's the kinds of things they need to look at for moving on in the future," said Feyen.

Feyen's proposal calls for significant increases in the salaries for the chief and officers. In 2012, a 22-year veteran of the Berthoud Police Department made just less than $54,000. The previous chief of six years made $74,000. Feyen would like the chief's salary range to be increased to $80,000 to $100,000. The officer salary range is currently, $36,000 to $49,500. Feyen would like to increase that range to $41,500 to $56,000.

Captain John Manago, with the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, told the town council it would cost about $1 million each year for the sheriff's office to do the policing for the town.

"How does Berthoud pay for either decision?" 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger asked Town Mayor David Gregg.

"I can't tell you that right at this moment. We're just going to have to look at our budgets and find the money that's going to take care of it," said Gregg.

"Is it there?" asked Zelinger.

"It has to be," said Gregg.

Everyone who spoke during public comment was supportive of the town reworking its own police department.

The Larimer County Sheriff's Office conducted a review of the Berthoud Police Department after an allegation of misconduct.

Berthoud Police Officer Jeremy Yachik allegedly confessed to physically abusing a 15-year-old girl. One instance of the abuse, which was captured on video, was described in court records as punishment for the child eating carrots out of a refrigerator.

The case was investigated by Loveland police after the video came to their attention on Sept. 25. Ashley Saint-Roberts, Yachik's former fiancée, sent it to several news organizations and police agencies, an affidavit indicates. Saint-Roberts said Yachik had abused her and the teen girl for years.

Yachik was later fired and Berthoud Police Chief Glenn Johnson was suspended in October, before resigning in December. Saint-Roberts said she began going public with the video after she sent it to Chief Johnson, and he did not respond to her.

Documents on the town's website reveal that the sheriff's office review of the current police department was very negative.

"We found the chief has overlooked and neglected many of the things that are absolutely necessary to leading an effective and accountable police operation," Sheriff Smith wrote.

Examples Smith's letter included are unsatisfactory hiring practices, a lack of proper tracking for equipment, late court filings, "haphazard" paperwork, mislabeled evidence, "inadequate" ongoing training and mishandling of allegations of misconduct.

Other concerns expressed in the documents include the fact that the Police Department is now understaffed and cannot be manned 24 hours a day. Before October 2013, the department had one chief and eight officers, allowing for 24-hour staffing. Based on a report from the interim chief, who is a sergeant in the sheriff's office, the department will soon be down to four officers.

"As your Sheriff," Smith's letter concludes, "I welcome the opportunity to submit a mutually agreeable proposal to the Town of Berthoud to provide the needed, local police services as the Town sees fit."

The estimated total cost of this contract is $1,097,564. That includes the services of eight marked patrol cars, half-time service of an unmarked detective's car, support services and several other programs.

"I know that the Larimer County Sheriff's Department has the manpower, resources and training to effectively handle serious felony investigations," District Attorney Clifford Riedel wrote in a letter on the topic. "For the Berthoud Police Department to conduct an equivalent investigation, I believe significant upgrades in personnel, equipment, resources and training would be required."

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