Volunteer posse boosts MCSO
Sam Green/Cortez Journal
The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office benefits from about 2,000 volunteer person-hours a year, which frees up more time for sheriff’s deputies and officers to concentrate on investigations.
The 25-member Montezuma County Sheriff’s Posse, with volunteers ranging in age from their early 20s to mid-60s, does not have arrest powers, cannot write citations and usually serves the sheriff’s office in a complementary role.
Tim Ihnen, 51, the major of the sheriff’s posse, said it is a support group.
“We absolutely do not have arrest powers or any power to write tickets,” he said. “We are another set of eyes for (the sheriff’s) deputies.”
Sheriff Dennis Spruell estimated that his department saves about $30,000 a year by using the volunteer posse members.
“It’s a huge benefit,” Spruell said. “It frees up officers. It gives us more manpower for free. It’s fantastic.”
Ihnen said the sheriff’s office provides posse members with firearm training and anything else needed to help the department. He said the firearm training allows posse members to carry a gun for their own protection, though there is no requirement to carry.
Ihnen also mentioned that posse members use their own vehicles when volunteering and he is looking into grants to see if they can secure funds to buy some law enforcement equipment. Posse members also use their own personal cell phones but have received some of the newer police radios to help them stay in touch with the sheriff’s office.
The process of becoming a posse member is relatively simple.
New applicants are required to fill out an application, and the sheriff’s office runs a background check on the individual. If the background check results are acceptable, the posse will determine whether the person is a good fit for the group.
If accepted, the applicant will become a probationary member for six months, during which he or she must attend all meetings and participate in three missions providing assistance to the sheriff’s office.
Ihnen said he decided to join the sheriff’s posse because he had been interested in law enforcement for several years, and it allows him to become involved in the field without becoming a deputy or police officer.
“This is my way of becoming involved in law enforcement and giving back to my community,” Ihnen said, and jokingly added that this was as much involvement as his wife would allow.
Ihnen said there are a few posse members who are thinking about pursuing a career in law enforcement, and added they are getting some insight into the career by being a posse member.
He said there have been instances where retirees from other police agencies have joined the posse, which helps the group immensely because of their past experiences.
For Steve Blair, a 15-year veteran of the posse, it’s a commitment that he’s happy to take on.
“It’s mostly local businessmen and -women trying to be of assistance to the sheriff,” Blair said. “I try to be helpful to the community rather than someone who just lives here and doesn’t contribute. You want to do your part to improve your community. My dad did this and as I grew up I felt it was my duty to help as much as I could.”
About 50 percent of the posse members are women and three of them are officers with the group.
Ihnen said everyone in the posse has a day job, so they cannot be available to volunteer their services at all times.
The most difficult part of the volunteer organization is the time that is required, he said, because individuals’ jobs remain a priority, but the 25 posse members he works with are extremely flexible.
He said he would like to have as many as 50 posse members, so no individual gets stretched too thin.
Ihnen, a service writer for Keetch Motors Inc., said his job so far has not interfered with his posse activities, though he added most of the incidents have occurred at night, and mentioned the Weber Fire as one example.
The posse has just secured a building with insurance funds after its old building burned to the ground. The new building is behind the Cortez cemetery north of U.S. Highway 160, but the inside of the structure needs work. Ihnen said the posse is looking into grants to start the process of adding amenities, including office spaces and an indoor shooting range.
“We will make it happen somehow,” he said.