Outgoing Fruita police chief lifted department to new heights
After two decades at the Grand Junction Police Department, the former sergeant Mark Angelo felt called to apply for Fruita’s chief of police when it came open.
Though he said he was up against much more qualified candidates, Angelo was tapped for the job.
Now with 13 years at the helm stabilizing the Fruita department and most recently overseeing a massive remodel and addition of the current police station, Angelo is stepping down.
Lt. Judy Macy has been appointed as the new chief, an official transition that will occur in early June.
Angelo, who is moving from his post in part because of health reasons, will transfer into the city’s code enforcement officer position.
“He essentially took a department that was struggling and introduced high levels of integrity, professionalism and community involvement,” said Fruita City Manager Clint Kinney. “It’s been a tremendous success for the community. He’s a rock star. He’s done really great.”
When Angelo started in 2001, the city had 6,000 residents. At that time, there were eight officers on duty. Now the department is commissioned for 16 officers as Fruita’s ranks have swelled to 13,000.
Angelo, 57, started as chief at the Police Department during a tumultuous time in the city’s government with a recall election and a lawsuit brought on by city residents. Also, Interim Fruita Police Chief Dan Dalley was killed in June 2001 by a motorist while he was on his motorcycle after learning his 6-month-old son had been hospitalized.
Angelo said those early days of moving from a sergeant to a chief were difficult and his stress levels shot up — so much that he had to be treated a few times. Angelo said his wife, Michelle, provided moral support, encouraging him he could do it. He also relied on his faith in God to help him through.
“The thing I’ll remember is being here,” Angelo said. “God really blessed me with the opportunity to be chief here. This is definitely the pinnacle of my career.”
After some time as chief, the former police officer who had worked patrol, investigations, community relations and a homicide case at the Grand Junction Police Department, attracted a few of his finest co-workers to the Fruita department. Though pay for Fruita police officers may be less than officers in larger locales, Angelo’s officers tend to stick around.
“Grand Junction was a great department,” Angelo said. “It gave me everything that I’ve needed to do this job.”
Angelo said some of the most important aspects that make up a good police officer are having strong moral and ethical values, good communication skills and not being afraid to be creative at problem solving. Officers are encouraged to get out into the community — get out of their cars and really talk to residents.
“Part of the advantage of being in a small department is the ability to affect change,” Angelo said. “There are so many ways to do this job. You have to be willing to give back to the community.”
Citizen surveys completed by Fruita residents routinely indicate the population is happy with its police officers. The 2013 survey indicated 74 percent of those who responded were satisfied with policing. Surveys were sent to Fruita’s about 5,000 households and roughly 922 households responded. The results were mostly a mirror image of responses by citizens in 2009.
“The thing about Mark is, there is no single good decision that he made; he is consistently making good decisions,” Kinney said.
Angelo received a Lifetime Achievement Award this year from the Western Colorado Peace Officers Association.
“We came to the consensus through his years of service and his affiliation with the WCPOA that he was probably the most deserving and best candidate for the award,” said Montrose Police Department officer Shawn Bornschein, the former president of the Western Colorado Peace Officers Association.
DURING ANGELO’S TENURE
While mostly uneventful, Fruita’s Police Department has had a sampling of issues to hit the press in recent years.
Three Fruita Police Department officers were involved in a shooting in June 2013, killing 61-year-old resident Lewis Pollard.
The officers were later cleared in the shooting by Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger because Pollard pointed a handgun at police and refused to drop it.
Former Fruita Police officer Jared Wright resigned the department in 2011 amid an internal probe looking in to whether he had been consistently tardy for work and dishonest with Angelo about his whereabouts.
Wright, a Republican, went on to serve as state House District 54 representative.
In April 2013, the department celebrated a major remodel and addition.
For years, officers in the department worked in close quarters. Now the station boasts several interview rooms and a separate area and a machine to register alcohol levels for people who are brought in on alleged drunken-driving offenses.
There are secure areas for records and evidence, a separate entrance for viewing evidence, showers for officers, a conference room, a training room and areas for patrol staff to log in reports.
Likely the most visible addition to the community is a bench outside the station. Donuts are shaped as seat rests with an officer in the middle holding a cup of coffee. A bike rack is fashioned to look like handcuffs.
Angelo said he got a kick out of watching a pair of elderly women laugh recently while they sat on the bench.
“This was the top of my bucket list to complete this building,” he said.
Fruita’s new chief Judy Macy will be the city’s first female head of police.
Macy said she plans to introduce a volunteer program to get residents more involved in helping with some operations and patrolling the Fruita sections of the Colorado Riverfront Trail.
Macy started as a sergeant at the Fruita Police Department in 2002 after spending 14 years as a sheriff’s deputy in Douglas County. She worked with a railroad prior to her time in law enforcement.
Kinney said Macy was involved in a lengthy interview process with Fruita staff, community members and area police chiefs and “everybody said she is top-notch,” he said.
“Without a doubt she’s the right person for the job,” Kinney said. “She’s exceptionally community-minded, she just finished earning her public administration degree and she is committed to Fruita. It was easy to appoint her.”