GOLDEN, Colo. -- Investigations into incidents at the Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center are taking a toll on the Golden Police Department.
The department only has 63 employees for a city of around 20,000. An average patrol shift usually consists of a sergeant and between three and five law enforcement officers.
Despite its small size, the city does have some crime; Golden averages about one homicide a year and has a number of home invasions, robberies, sexual assaults and more. The agency has added five more officers in recent years to keep up with changes in the city.
Part of the department's area of responsibility includes the Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center.
“The youths that are in there are the most violent or the ones who have committed the most crimes,” said deputy chief Joe Harvey.
The center is a state-run facility; it is operated by the Department of Youth Services, which is a branch of the Department of Human Resources. However, it is up to the Golden Police Department to handle emergencies and investigate crimes that happen there.
In recent years, the number of calls for service to the facility have gone up.
“The calls are increasing. The trend shows that the calls are increasing,” Harvey said.
Through a Colorado Open Records request, Denver7 was able to obtain the number of calls for service over the past five years.
- In 2014, there were 121 calls for service
- In 2015, there were 72 calls for service
- In 2016, there were 107 calls for service
- In 2017, there were 103 calls for service
- In 2018, there were 162 calls for service
- So far this year, there have been 175 calls for service
The investigations into crimes committed at Lookout Mountain are becoming increasing more complicated and are starting to take a drain on the police department.
In order to understand why that is, though, Harvey says it’s important to look at the philosophical change that has happened at the facility. Several years ago, the Youth Services Department started changing its approach for how to deal with the teens.
“We’ve moved away from treating them like prisoners and moved more to a rehabilitation model,” Harvey said.
Because of that change, the state’s overall population of teens in a facility like this has started to decline as the Department of Youth Services looked for other ways to rehabilitate teens.
“The youths that are in there are the most violent or the ones who have committed the most crimes,” Harvey said. “Many of them are violent offenders and many of them are prone to violence and as a result the assaults are more aggressive.”
As a result, the investigations into those crimes take up more time and resources and could lead to adult charges, like the case of Quinn Scaggs who was facing seven adult charges when he escaped from the center this week.
An adult felony case filing for severe assault at this facility can take as many as ten hours for a detective. Juvenile cases typically take between five and seven hours for Golden police to file.
“Currently, we have a part-time detective assigned to only handling Lookout Mountain cases,” Harvey said. “But that detective is drowning and can no longer handle the caseload by himself. This is what is causing the problem.”
At the current rate and without any additional caseloads, Harvey estimates that it will take the detective between four and six months to finish work on his current investigations.
“The detective who works these cases currently has five riots under investigation and those are just from November 2018. We have three physical assaults that are under investigation, four sex assaults and we’re still working on three escapes,” Harvey said.
When a major event happens, like riots or an escape, even more Golden Police resources are used, with officers working overtime being paid time and a half. Sergeants make an average of $49 an hour while officers with three years of experience make around $37 per hour.
All of this is paid for by the city of Golden and, in turn, the Golden taxpayers.
“It’s not just the impact on Golden because we are typically always calling in the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department,” Harvey said.
The Colorado School of Mines police and other agencies can also be called in to help.
Right now, there is no reimbursement coming from the state for the resources Golden and other agencies use when they investigate crimes or handle emergencies at this state-run facility.
“We really haven’t ever questioned the partnership,” Harvey said.
However, with more calls for service happening at Lookout Mountain, Golden’s police chief, William Kilpatrick, has started to raise the question about whether it’s time to rethink the way investigations happen in the facility.
“The chief finally looked at it and said, ‘OK, I need to understand what is the impact to my agency,’ because we are in a position where we need to be able to divert some of our resources to other important avenues coming down the road,” Harvey said.
One of the growing issues Golden is starting to look into is the growing homeless population and how to handle it.
Now, the Golden Police Department, the Department of Youth Services, Colorado Bureau of Investigations, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and others are holding a discussion about whether it’s time to change the way incidents and investigations are handled at Lookout Mountain.
“We are actively working with the Golden Police Department regarding the recent incidents at Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center, and have had preliminary discussions about options moving forward. We are thankful for the support of Golden PD and look forward to continuing our partnership in the effort to make positive changes,” said a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Right now, there are more questions than answers and no shortage of ideas.
“Does the state say, ‘OK, we’re going to pay for the part-time detective,’” Harvey said. “But if they do that, what does it look like for the other facilities? It’s not a singular Golden issue and that’s what we have to understand, if this has a far-reaching impact statewide.”
The biggest question is, what should Golden police be required to provide in terms of resources and how much should the state be required to help out?
The options range from continuing with business as usual and leaving Golden to run all the investigations, to specifying the number of hours Golden will pay for before the state starts supplementing the cost, to CBI taking over the investigations, to an inspector general taking over.
“Do they have the capacity to handle the number of cases that are coming out of all of the institutions?” Harvey asked.
There’s even talks about Lookout Mountain hiring its own investigators. However, there are positives and negatives to each of those ideas and it’s up to the various agencies to work through the possibilities and try to come up with a solution.
The groups have already hosted two meeting to discuss the range of possibilities, most recently on Friday.
“We just started a discussion. It's open and everybody is participating,” Harvey said.
If a change is made, it could set a precedent for the rest of the state, but it isn’t going to happen overnight. There are still several more meetings that will need to happen to discuss the pros and cons of each option and to come up with an agreement.
Harvey says that more than anything, he wants the community to know that they are aware of the fears people are feeling when a violent teen from Lookout Mountain escapes and they will continue to dedicate their care and resources to keeping people safe.
“Lookout mountain doesn’t want the Golden Police Department to be responding to all these calls for service. They are very aware of the impact on our resources. They feel bad about having to call us but who else do they call?” Harvey said.
For now, Lookout Mountain will be treated like any other area that falls under the Golden Police Department’s purview, but the bottom line is that that commitment is draining.
“We are asking for help,” Harvey said.