Deputy numbers increase at jams

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department has been increasing law enforcement’s presence at Country Jam for the past four years.

The Jam is the county’s largest annual music event, held in in June in Mack.

Staffing levels obtained by The Daily Sentinel through the Mesa County Attorney’s Office show a steady increase of deputies at the event, contradicting statements from the Sheriff’s Department.

The department had 54 people working Country Jam this year, four more than in 2008, nine more than in 2007 and seven more than in 2006.

The number of personnel working Rock Jam also had been increasing, until this year.

The Sheriff’s Department assigned 37 deputies in 2006 to Rock Jam, 42 in 2007 and 47 in 2008. According to the Sheriff’s Department, that number fell this year to 27 deputies and an additional four Grand Junction Police Department officers.

But the number would have been even lower if the department did not have a federal grant, which supplied funds for nine cops to handle underage liquor enforcement, said Heather Benjamin, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department.

“If we did not have that EUDL (Enforcement of Underage Drinking Laws) grant, those (nine) officers that are out there doing underage enforcement, they would not have been part of that event at all,” she said.

The Mesa County Commission has requested that the Sheriff’s Department get out of the security business at Country Jam and Rock Jam and leave the job of crowd control to the concert promoter’s hired security firm, Foremost Response.

Sheriff Stan Hilkey was asked about the increasing presence.

“The (reason) staffing has increased, especially in the recent years, is due to the amount put out there dedicated to the underage drinking enforcement efforts,”

Hilkey wrote in a Sept. 14 e-mail to The Daily Sentinel. “As the mutual aid assistance started to go away for us and we had to staff the event ourselves, we also increased the underage enforcement effort in recent years. Much of that is paid for by grant dollars.”

Hilkey said that after a riot at Country Jam in 1998, outside officers were brought in, but that practice ended in 2005.

Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis, who said earlier this month that the contract between Country Jam and Rock Jam and the county has to end,  was “not surprised” when told the department has been increasing its presence at the concerts.

Meis also noted, much to his chagrin, that the price of the annual contract (for security and inspections by the Mesa County Health Department) between the county and the music festivals continues to increase.


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