WARD — There's a new sheriff in town.
This fiercely independent mountain hamlet 23 miles northwest of Boulder has been without an official police force since its only state-certified officer, Robert "Fuzzy Bob" Spratford, posted his resignation letter on a piece of yellow paper outside the town's post office in November.
Now, the Boulder County Sheriff's Office has stepped in. Reluctantly.
"As it stands right now, our deputies will respond to Ward for calls of service and enforce state laws," Sheriff Joe Pelle said. "We don't want to step on anybody's toes. But on the other hand, if a crime is committed I have a statutory requirement to intervene, and we will."
For 30 years, Spratford led Ward's law-enforcement brigade of three town marshals, once nicknamed the "Squabble Squad." But the other two marshals — Peter "Skinny Pete" Lawrence and Norm "Tiny" Bowers — are not certified as full-fledged police officers, and by themselves have no authority to patrol the mostly dirt streets of this town of about 150 residents.
Bowers, who is also the town's fire chief, tried to be grandfathered in as a police officer when state legislators required certification in the early 1980s, but the paperwork was lost. This winter, he petitioned the Peace Officer Standards and Training board for another shot at certification, but they turned him down, saying he had no formal training.
Lawrence is a reserve officer, meaning he can do police work only if a fully certified officer is at his side.
Spratford continued to field calls while the town tried to figure out how to replace him, but he is now officially done, Pelle said.
Newly elected Mayor Pete Gleichman, who is also the town's postmaster, said the Sheriff's Office is still cooperating with Lawrence and Bowers, who was recently appointed police commissioner by town leaders.
The town is notorious for bucking authority, Gleichman said, and has kept out strangers by changing traffic signs on both ends of some streets to read "Do Not Enter" or "One Way."
"I think there is some feeling that the marshals are well-known, and if you want to deal with authority you want to deal with them," he said.
A couple of state-certified officers have offered to help for a fee, but the marshals are volunteers, just like all of the town's officials. And Lawrence might train to become a fully certified officer, but he already has a full-time job as a home builder, Gleichman said.
Ward doesn't appear to be rampant with crime: Only three people have been arrested there in the last 23 years, according to Boulder County Jail records.
Boulder County sheriff's Cmdr. Tom Sloan, who's in charge of patrolling the county's mountain towns, said deputies have only been called to Ward once since taking over. They assisted Lawrence on a suspicious-activity call that turned out to be nothing.
"We haven't had any more of a presence in town," Sloan said.
He said sheriff's deputies will respond in an emergency, but he suspects that residents still call their hometown lawmen instead of 911.
"So we would have no idea," Sloan said.
But he said occasional patrols along the town's main drag haven't been met with the same resistance as in the past, when residents would complain to marshals, who would call the Sheriff's Office.
Scott Byers owns the Millsite Inn, Ward's sole drinking establishment. He said he's seen more sheriff's cars cruising the Peak to Peak Highway, but hasn't seen any sort of legal crackdown.
Crime in Ward mostly centers around drug activity, which will continue because people don't think it's a problem and won't call police to report it, Byers said.
"A 4-year-old smoking reefer is child abuse in the rest of the United States," he said. "But here? Nah."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Christine Reid at 303-473-1355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.