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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530

July 2021 | Volume 14 | Issue 7

The COPS Office is the component of the U.S. Department of Justice responsible for advancing the practice of community policing by the nation’s state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies through information and grant resources. In an effort to provide the best information by the field and for the field, we are pleased to introduce our three Law Enforcement (LE) Fellows for 2021. The LE Fellows possess in-depth knowledge of police operations, policies, and procedures and have an interest in national-level policy and current issues facing law enforcement agents in the United States. Their on-the-ground experience strengthens the COPS Office’s capabilities in the development, delivery, and management of technical assistance to law enforcement, community members, and other criminal justice stakeholders. This article features an interview with one of the three LE Fellows for 2021: Josh Larson (JL) of the Vail Police Department.

Interviewer: What is your current position and department? How long have you been in law enforcement?

JL: I am currently working as a police officer for the Vail Police Department in Vail, Colorado. I was hired by the Vail Police Department and sent to the police academy in 2008. I worked in Vail from 2008 to 2013. In 2013, my wife and I moved to Washington state for a job opportunity for my wife. During this time, I was able to get a job with the Redmond Police Department in Redmond, Washington from 2013 to 2016. After several years of living in the city we decided to return to Colorado, and I came back to Vail PD in 2016.

Interviewer: Why did you join up?

JL: My original job was recreation park and tourism management. We ended up there in the recreation and tourism business, but I didn’t feel like I was making that much of a difference. Good money and good benefits, but I was away from my family. Vail PD was hiring and sponsoring someone to go to the academy. I had applied in San Diego. I went through their testing a week before the academy started in Jefferson County. That was in 2008.

I became a police officer because I wanted to do something important that helped the community on a day to day basis. I wanted to have the opportunity to help people who are unable to help themselves and I figured that, if I was going to be spending 40-plus hours per week away from my family anyway, then I at least wanted to know that what I was doing was worthwhile.

Interviewer: Vail itself is a small community with a huge visitor turnover. What are some of the non-obvious features of law enforcement in a winter tourist destination like Vail?

JL: As an officer in Vail, our whole town’s finance base relies on how many tourists come into the area. Because of this, we need to have a more customer service–based approach than you might elsewhere. When you answer a call, you have more time to spend with people when something happens to them. In Redmond, you just go from call to call to call.

Because Vail is an international tourist destination, we see all the of the same things that a big city sees in terms of crime, but not at the same volume. You get the affluent customers for Vail resorts, and a lot of them are of the “Don’t you know who I am?” mindset. They can become fairly indignant when they get contacted by the police if they’ve been drinking or possibly doing drugs.

Then there is the resort staff, who are also rotating. The staff live in housing and they’re up for the season; they don’t get paid much and they come in to have a good time and party. I know—I used to work the lifts. We call every year’s new employees the freshman class. We try to do an employee orientation and let them know what will get them in trouble, kicked out of housing, or sent home. I think it somewhat helps.

Interviewer: What does community policing mean to you and why does it matter?

JL: To me, community policing simply means that the police are part of the community they serve and work to build positive relationships with members of the community. When this relationship is strong, the police and the community work together to solve problems and make the community a safer place for all residents.

The town of Vail itself only has about five thousand permanent residents. We don’t have a lot of calls for service. We have a pretty good relationship with the business owners and the bartenders and see if they need any help from us. Pretty much the day after the mountain closes—we call it mud season—most of the residents clear out and take vacation at that point. Working deep nights in mud season, you can drive around town and only ever see another officer driving around town. It’s a ghost town.

Interviewer: I was promised some epic bear stories.

JL: I have bear stories. We have a lot of wildlife, and part of wildlife is bears. After the winter, they come down out of the mountains and tend to get into cars and trashcans and houses. One couple had a brand-new Subaru Outback and they parked at the base of their apartment complex. In a ten- or fifteen-minute timeframe, the bear got into the car and the door closed behind it. The bear lost its mind. They called us because you call the police when you have a bear trapped in the car.

Interviewer: Do you call the police when there is a bear trapped in your car?

JL: You do in Vail. We went up there and asked each other, “How do we get this bear out of the car?” I went up to this guy and said, “I need your key fob.” He asked why and I said, “I need to lock the door.” He said, “You want to lock the bear in my car?” I answered, “Yes, because we want to tie this caution tape to the handle so we can open the door from a distance.” He gave me his keys, but he did not want to. I tied the caution tape to the door and walked back to my partner and asked him if this was a stupid idea, to which he replied that it was. Anyway, we got the pepper balls ready and we opened the door and the bear ran away into the woods, but the inside of the car was totaled, and I mean totaled. We actually made the national news; my cousin called to ask me if I was there.

Interviewer: I still feel as though you would call someone else besides the PD.

JL: People hear rustling and assume it’s an intruder in the house. It’s just part of the job.

Sarah Estill
Sr. Program Analyst
COPS Office

Photo courtesy of the Vail Police Department.

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