Gene Lillard and Blaine Hall fought crime together for years as commanders at the Montrose Police Department. Now, they are joining forces again at their new jobs.
Lillard is the newly elected Sheriff of Montrose County, and Hall is the newly promoted Chief of the Montrose Police Department.
They recently made a joint presentation to The Forum, at Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli, to unveil their agencies’ plans to the public. The key, they said, is increased cooperation between the Montrose Sheriff’s Office (S.O.) and the Montrose Police Department (P.D.).
Chief Hall said that training is among their highest priorities. “One of the first things that Gene and I have talked about is combined training. The state mandates us to train on driving, arrest control, and firearms every year. So, it just makes sense, since we have instructors in both agencies who teach this stuff.”
Hall said that the two agencies will have more formal combined training exercises, such as “active shooter threat response” drills. Specifically, those exercises will focus on how to react to a school shooting situation.
Sheriff Lillard added that the agencies’ Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams will have each other’s backs. ” We have 12 SWAT members. If there is a call within the city of Montrose, I will send three to five deputies to assist the Montrose P.D., and vice-versa.”
Montrose P.D. and S.O. SWAT teams are now training together and sharing equipment, e.g. armored vehicles. Lillard said “These two vehicles are incredible. They have saved lives, and will save lives.” The sheriff says they even have a lot psychological power. “If you have a barricaded person, who has a high-powered rifle and doesn’t want to come out, one of these vehicles driving up in his front yard will really get his attention.” Lillard has seen bad guys surrender immediately under those circumstances.
The Montrose Fire Department is also helping police officers and sheriff’s deputies.
Two paramedics now accompany SWAT deployments. Chief Tad Rowan has approved this, according to Lillard. “The two guys we’ve got on board are very good at it, and very dedicated.” The Sheriff called them “a godsend”.
Hall said there are financial advantages for the two police agencies to train and operate together. “Any time you attach the ‘public safety’ label to a piece of equipment, the price usually goes up quite a bit. So, Gene and I plan to share the costs.”
Lillard talked about the street crimes unit that he and Hall created when both men were commanders at the Montrose P.D. “Commander Hall, at the time, got it up and running,” Lillard said. “Two officers, in plain clothes, come out and work the streets. Basically, it amounts to undercover work. They target low-level drug dealers.” Many of those deals go down in certain supermarket parking lots and city parks. “La Raza Park has a big needle problem, as does Buckley Park,” according to the sheriff. He has now assigned two deputies to do the same kind of undercover assignments.
Hall emphasized that they’re finding a lot of hard drugs. “Heroin is alive and well in the city and county of Montrose,” the chief pointed out. During a recent weekend, “The police department made three different arrests of individuals who had syringes loaded with heroin.”
“Methamphetamine is also rampant in our community,” Hall reminded the audience. “Our 7th Judicial District Task Force is focused on some of the higher-level drug stuff, but it’s these individuals who are committing these so-called ‘low-level’ drug crimes that are causing consternation for our citizens. It’s a problem, that Gene and I plan on tackling together.”
Many serious crimes are on the rise, and the two agencies often join forces to solve them, according to Hall. “When we have a homicide, when we have a major crime in the city or the county, Gene and I plan on lending investigators, back and forth, to help with these investigations.” Homicide investigation are very expensive, so the P.D. and S.O. plan to share costs on those, too.
Fortunately, homicides are still rare in the city and county. “We probably average one every year and a half or two years, something like that,” Hall said. However, “Talking with (7th Judicial District Attorney) Dan Hotsenpillar recently, 2018 had one of the highest number of homicides ever in the entire 7th Judicial District.” The District includes the counties of Montrose, Delta, San Miguel, Ouray, Gunnison, and Hinsdale.
The city of Montrose alone saw an increase of felony cases filed last year. “From 2017 to 2018, we saw an increase of 49%. Dan Hotsenpillar broke a record for the judicial district with 508 felony filings,” the chief reported. “The Montrose Police Department alone filed 255 felony cases in 2018.”
7th Judicial District judges already have very heavy caseloads, which are expected to increase this year. Chief Hall thinks that can affect the quality of justice. “I learned the other day that Montrose County has elected to not gain an additional judge. I think that’s an issue. If you think that’s an issue, it’s time to start calling your legislators, and other elected officials. Maybe those voices will be heard enough so that the people who hold the purse strings, especially for judges, may listen.”