Law Enforcement for the Soul... Center

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

Greetings from the Soul Center of the Universe. I’ve made my annual pilgrimage to the Soul Center of the Universe to offer homage to James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, et al. If you’re not a regular reader,(1) you might assume I’m in Detroit or Memphis, or maybe down the street from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

But I’m not.

I’m in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, home of the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge. Over the Yampa River.

You probably didn’t realize the Soul Center of the Universe is in northwest Colorado, in a town whose African-American population is, so far as I can determine, pretty much the same as its sulphur-crested cockatoo population.(2)

But then again, you probably didn’t know what a pishtaco was until you read about them here. That’s why you read this drivel.(3)

I have no idea why the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge is here.(4) What I know is that in 1993, the town voted to name their new bridge after James Brown. He came and christened it with a rendition of “I Feel Good,” and now all the ranchers who do business in this cow town (the ski resort is way up the hill; very few skiers use the bridge) pass by or over a bridge named not after Merle Haggard or George Strait or Garth Brooks, but James Brown.

But the bridge is just one of many things to love about Steamboat. You need transportation? The bus is free. So is the newspaper, a great little tabloid called Steamboat Today. You can read it on the bus.

You forgot to bring your snowshoes or your cowboy hat? You can get either at F. M. Light & Sons Mercantile, established by Frank Light in 1905 and run today by a fourth generation of Lights. You can get a chocolate soda at the fountain at Lyon’s Drug. Or a chocolate malt served in the big metal container it was mixed in at Johnny B. Good’s Diner.(5) All in two blocks on Lincoln Street.(6)

The place is small town America at its best, and their priorities are nicely squared away: They close down Lincoln Street—and detour traffic traversing Colorado—for two days in February so the kids can use it for the Winter Carnival. And the law enforcement is superb. I spent 15 years as a prosecutor. I am a huge fan of good law enforcement. And the men and women of Steamboat’s finest demonstrate every day that it takes many forms.

You want to know what it’s like to be a peace officer in a small town in Colorado? Here are a few excerpts from Steamboat Today’s police log: “Tuesday, January 19, 12:15 a.m.: Steamboat Springs Police Department officers stopped a drunken pedestrian at 11th Street and Lincoln Avenue. Officers reportedly saw the man walking down the street carrying a pole used to hold velvet waiting line ropes. The man reportedly was extremely intoxicated and could not give them an address or the name of a sober friend, so officers took him to detox for the night. Officers could not immediately determine where the pole came from.”

How drunk do you have to be to be unable to provide the NAME of a sober friend? “Come on, buddy, we don’t need an address or telephone number; we’ll take care of that part. Just give us the NAME of a sober friend who can take you home (and maybe tell us where the velvet rope is) and you won’t have to spend the night in the pokey.”

“1:10 a. m: Police were called to a report of beer bottles spilled on the roadway at Pine Grove Road and South Lincoln Avenue.”

Somebody called the police because of beer—or beer bottles—in the road. Obviously, this is a town with VERY high standards.

“1:35: Police were called to a request for an ambulance for a man who had fallen down. The man declined the ambulance ride.”

I don’t know which is more amazing—that people called an ambulance when they saw a man fall down(7) or the fact the POLICE came to make sure everything was okay.

And that was just one night. How about this one, a week later:

“6:30 p.m.: Police were called to a report of three teenage boys running and shouting obscenities about a girl near the post office on Third Street. Officers could not find the boys.”

Okay, you tell me what the response would be if you called your local police department and said, “There are three teenage boys running and shouting obscenities about a girl at the post office.” In Steamboat, they went and looked for the boys.

“8:11: Police were called to a complaint about two dogs loose at Yahmonite Street and Crawford Avenue. A woman reported the dogs would not let her by as she was walking. An officer helped the woman get to her destination and the dogs were gone when the officer returned.”

Honest, folks, if I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’. They “helped the woman get to her destination.” It said so right there in Steamboat Today.

“9:06: Police were called to a report of a domestic situation in the 800 block of West Hillside Court where a girlfriend reportedly was calling her boyfriend repeatedly. There was no crime, and officers tried to talk to the people involved.”

“A girlfriend reportedly was calling her boyfriend repeatedly.” That got a police response—and an attempt to help out. God bless ’em.

Here’s another slice of Steamboat police life: “Wednesday, January 20, 10:54 a.m: Police were called to a noise complaint in the 1300 block of Sparta Plaza, where people reported that an upstairs neighbor was stomping around, and the caller suspected that it was intentional. Officers talked to the people involved.” Remember, this noise complaint came in at 10:54  Ay-Em!!

“12:29 p.m.: Police were called to a report of a suspicious incident in the first block of Arapahoe Lane, where a person reportedly was walking door to door selling hand sanitizer.” No indication the SWAT team was called out; come to think of it, no indication there IS a SWAT team.

“8:00 p.m.: Police were called to a report of an apparently drunken hitchhiker near a bus stop in the 300 block of South Lincoln Avenue. The man reportedly was holding two helium balloons and wearing a work jacket and stepped in front of cars. The man was gone when police arrived.” Helium balloons; a brilliant escape!

I don’t mean to suggest Steamboat Five-O doesn’t encounter real crime. There have been four DUIs and three warrant arrests since I got here. “Somebody reportedly spray-painted on bathroom doors” at one of the parks, and there was a big story in the paper about a judge ruling marital privilege would not be allowed in a felony trial. So it’s not all Camelot and Mayberry.

But there have been four different calls of dogs running loose and one where, “Deputies were called to a report of three horses loose in the 50000 block of Moon Hill Drive, north of Steamboat. Deputies could not find the owner of the horses.”

And there was this: “2:42 p.m.: Police were called to a report of a trespass in the 300 block of Pine Street where a woman reported that someone entered her car and smoked a cigarette. The woman reportedly knew the suspect and nothing was missing from the car.”

She called the police because an acquaintance smoked a cigarette in her car. AND THEY CAME!

And then there was this: Tuesday, Jan. 26: 2:07 a.m.: Police were called to a request for help at Third Street and Lincoln Avenue, where a group of people reportedly could not get a taxi.” You gotta love a place where if you can’t get a taxi, you can call a cop.

And, my personal favorite of the week: “9:50 p.m.: Police were called to a report of a suspicious incident in the 3300 block of Apres Ski Way. A woman reported that her upstairs neighbors had started drilling holes through their floor into her living room, bedroom and kitchen area to spy on her. She reported that the people were also ‘getting heroin into her system via these portals.’ She told police a maintenance man had sealed the portals once but they had returned. “Officers checked the house and determined that the report was unfounded.” [Italics added.]

Unfounded. Now these are people who know how to write a police report.

But I must admit that what really won my undying admiration for Colorado law enforcement is not anything the Steamboat Springs force has done. It was an article that ran in Steamboat Today under the headline, “Aspen to Host Spring Cannabis Festival.”

According to the Associated Press, “A cannabis festival in Aspen this spring will be the first in Colorado for approved growers to put their strains in a contest. The Western Slope Cannabis Crown will have about 50 medical marijuana growers enter their strains of weed.”

According to AP, “The festival April 17-18 is being patterned after Amsterdam’s Cannabis Cup competition held each November,” and is “nearly sold out, with 1,500 [?25] tickets sold.”

Most of you will read that and come away with no thoughts other than that you want to be in Aspen in April and Amsterdam in November. But I came away with even more admiration for Colorado law enforcement.

This has to be one of the great sting operations of our time, and I have already asked the editor for expense money to cover it. I wanna be there when the police swoop down on the 50 growers and 1,500 potheads and whisk them off to the hoosegow.

And how do I know it’s a sting? According to the organizer, “the marijuana sampling most likely will be in a private condo or room where the providers are staying.”

Does that sound like a “festival” to you? Or does it sound like, “Just step right through this door into the sampling condo . . .” which turns out to be a roomful of guys wearing flak vests that say DOJ and Colorado Department of Public Safety and like that, and who collect your weed and cuff your wrists?

I figure the guy pumping heroin through his downstairs neighbor’s ceiling portals is bound to walk into that room. Maybe even the hitchhiker with the helium balloons. And of course the smoking car trespasser. I want to be there to report on their apprehension by Steamboat authorities.

Then I wanna go sit on the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge, watch the Yampa roll by, drink my hot chocolate, and listen to my mainspring unwind. As it does every year in Steamboat.
Beds’ Notes
(1) Or just don’t want to admit your recidivism—a position I can fully understand.
(2) I’ve seen two of each so far.
(3) That and the delightful sense of unchallengeable superiority it must give you.
(4) Although it does seem wonderfully convenient for all the soul music aficionados in Wyoming, Idaho, New Mexico, and South Dakota.
(5) The next bridge will doubtless be named after Chuck Berry.
(6) AKA Colorado State Highway 40. The business district fronts the state highway. It’s just like all my childhood memories of Route 66.
(7) In my town, no one beyond the second degree of consanguinity would call an ambulance for you if you were on fire.
William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted via email at william.bedsworth@jud.ca.gov.