Sheriff easing out of concert security business

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department is slowly transferring security and crowd control at the Grand Valley’s two largest annual music events, Country Jam and Rock Jam, to a private security firm.

Each year, the department gets approval from the Mesa County Commission to provide security at the music festivals. This year, though, one commissioner bristled and said the contract needs to be phased out and that Country Jam and Rock Jam need to provide their own security.

“This agreement has always caused me frustration and concern,” Commissioner Craig Meis said recently when the Mesa County Commission voted unanimously to approve the 2009 contract for Rock Jam, which starts Friday. “This thing needs to eventually go away.”

Meis said there are plenty of events in the county that serve alcohol and do not have security contracts with the Sheriff’s Department. Additionally, he said, the county is placed in a role of providing regulatory oversight of the events, such as Mesa County Health Department inspections of food vendors, and then charging Country Jam and Rock Jam for those inspections as well as security. No other event in the county has such a contract.

“We need an exit strategy,” Meis said.

This year, the county signed a contract not to exceed $55,000 for “services, food and provisions” for Sheriff’s Department deputies at Rock Jam, from Sept. 10 to 13, and not to exceed $100,000 for Country Jam, which was June 24 to June 29. The days listed in the contracts extend longer than the actual events because of services the days before and after the concerts.

The contract also asks the concert promoters to pay an additional $4,500 for costs associated with the use of the 911 communications center and to have
$2 million worth of insurance for general liability and liquor liability.

Sheriff Stan Hilkey said his department “spent in the neighborhood of $20,000 to $25,000 less on Country Jam” this year than last year. He did not provide exact amounts.

The owner of Rock Jam, Mark Steen, agrees with ramping up private security and reducing the load on the Sheriff’s Department.

“They don’t want to be an usher and break up a fight. That’s not them; that is our security,” Steen said.

By private security taking greater charge of crowd control, it allows deputies to focus on actual violations of law, such as underage drinking or assaults.

In the 1990s, there was a riot at Country Jam. Since then, Country Jam and Rock Jam started contracting with the Sheriff’s Department for security. “That’s how all this came about,” Meis said.

“Over the years we’ve worked hard with (Country Jam) staff to change the culture of the event to be less wild. ... We are successfully achieving that goal more each year,” Hilkey wrote in an e-mail to The Daily Sentinel.

The Sheriff’s Department has been working with the private security company Foremost Response, based in Aspen, during the transition. The Sheriff’s Department said it deployed “about 40 people on site” over 24-hour periods


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