Beginning May 9, Pagosa Springs will have a new chief of police: Bill Rockensock.
On March 25, Town of Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem recommended that the town council appoint Rockensock to replace the current chief, Jim Saunders, following Saunders’ retirement in May. Council members agreed, voting unanimously.
Saunders’ third and final retirement will put an end to the (by his count) 39 years, seven months and 10 days of law enforcement work he will have totaled by the end of his last day with the department.
Saunders joined the Pagosa Springs Police Department in April 2005, as assistant chief to then-chief Don Volger, with the idea that Saunders would work under Volger until Volger’s planned retirement in December 2008, (after his 24-year stint as chief), at which time Saunders would take over the department to help ease the transition before a new, long-term chief was found.
“Change, whether it’s good change or bad change, can be somewhat traumatic,” Saunders said, “so we thought that I could ease them away from the time that he (Volger) was police chief and then immediately start the evaluation process for my successor.”
Saunders originally intended to stay with the department through the end of this year, but, with the economy’s downturn and the town’s need to trim its budget, the decision was made to retire early in order to save the town money.
“The timing was right,” Saunders said. “Rock (Rockensock) had indicated early on when I was here that he would eventually like to move into that assistant chief slot, which we still have, but we haven’t filled at the present time.”
With his desire expressed, the department began sending Rockensock to training to prepare him and to assess his ability to take over as chief.
Rockensock has served in the department since May 1997 and is currently a sergeant and supervisor. Prior to coming to Pagosa Springs, Rockensock worked in detentions with the Jefferson County Sheriff Department (interestingly, where Saunders began his career and served almost 22 years) for one year. Before that, Rockensock served as a part-time college campus police officer in Colorado Springs.
Saunders said Rockensock demonstrated the attributes needed to serve as chief in the PSPD office: a wide knowledge base of the workings of the department, an extensive knowledge of the Colorado Revised Statutes, knowledge in civil law, and the administrative and supervisory skills, as well as the desire.
“He’s earned the chance, he’s earned the opportunity,” Saunders said.
Rockensock said the move to chief is a natural progression.
“When you start out in this job, a lot of officers want to learn more and more and more, and, as time goes on, the more knowledge you have about the job, the easier it comes,” Rockensock said in an interview. “I think it was more or less a natural progression of me, wanting to continue and do more than what I was doing before.”
Short term, Rockensock said he hopes the transition to being chief is smooth, and that the town can get through the rough times with the department in order to fill open positions and “continue to help the department grow along with the necessity of the town and the things that we need to provide as far as service to the town.”
Long term, dependent on town growth and the economy, Rockensock said he hopes the department will grow both in size and in terms of opportunities it provides to the officers and others in the department.
Both Rockensock and Saunders believe that Rockensock will serve as chief many years.
“I say this with all sincerity: I have the utmost confidence in Rock. I think he’s going to take this department to the next level. I think it’s already a department the people in town can be pretty proud of,” Saunders said, adding, “I think it’s a win-win. I know he’s going to do a great job.”
“I believe, and I believe the rest of the police department believes, he’s got an excellent command of the federal, state and local criminal statutes and is up to date on the most effective law enforcement techniques,” Mitchem told council in presenting the recommendation, adding that he thinks Rockensock has a love for the community and a respect for its citizens.