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Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office begins transition; Buglione prepares to lead

Sheriff Squirm 1
Austin Colbert
The Aspen Times
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, right, listens to his challenger, Michael Buglione, during a "Squirm Night" at Grassroots TV in Aspen on Oct. 6. Buglione is the presumptive winner of the race for sheriff and will assume the office Jan. 10.

Michael Buglione has 17 years of experience in law enforcement between his work with the Aspen Police Department and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, but he hasn’t worked with the sheriff’s office since 2019.

(That’s when Buglione lost his job due to an incident at Bumps restaurant at Buttermilk, which he addressed during Squirm Night.)

Parker Lathrop, chief deputy of operations for the sheriff’s office, said there hasn’t been a sheriff-elect who didn’t currently work for the office since 1976. That’s when Dick Kienast was elected to replace Carrol D. Whitmire.

Lathrop said transition requires some additional support and preparation.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s happened, whether it’s in dispatch or in the jail or on patrol,” Lathrop said. “We want to make sure that those big projects are in a good spot.”

He added that there have been some changes since Buglione last worked in the sheriff’s office.

“Police reform is big,” Lathrop said. “We had Senate Bill 2217, which is a big change to policing. And Michael was out of the office when that was put into place. We want to make sure that he’s up to speed on what changes occurred there, what we did to adapt, and make sure we are ready for it.”

One requirement in SB 2217 is that all peace officers, including sheriff deputies, must wear body cameras by July 1.

Lathrop said the office is on track to issue body cameras to all deputies in January.

After meeting with Buglione on Tuesday, Lathrop said he doesn’t expect the new sheriff to make a lot of immediate changes to the department.

pitkin county disalvo.jpg
Halle Zander
Aspen Public Radio
Incumbent Sheriff Joe DiSalvo stands outside the Pitkin County administration building in Aspen in September.

Buglione’s Plans

Last week, Buglione said he wants to find a way to detain inmates locally.

In 2020, the Pitkin County Jail was deemed unsafe to house inmates.

Since then, the incarcerated have been sent to the jail in Garfield County.

Buglione ran on the promise that he wouldn’t build a new jail and wanted to find a way to restart operations at the current facility.

“One of my early goals is to get our inmates back from Garfield County and back into Pitkin County,” Buglione said. “And the jail needs to be safe for inmates as well as staff. So I would need to tour the jail and make sure that it is ready and expedite whatever needs to be completed.”

And although new sheriffs can bring in their own employees, Buglione said he’s not planning to fire anybody at this time.

“I recommend that everybody just stay put,” Buglione said. “If there are people that want to leave of their own accord, that is entirely up to them.”

Lathrop said deputies' day-to-day responsibilities should stay the same during this transition, regardless of the change in leadership.

“They’re going to continue to be the dedicated professionals that they are," he said. "The sheriff kind of sets the destination for the office and it’s the staff that steers us and gets us there.”

Buglione has expressed an interest in meeting with staffers before he assumes office.

“I trust that there will be a peaceful transfer of power, and Joe will let me have meetings with individuals and hopefully group meetings with departments to see what’s happening,” Buglione said.

But Sunday, incumbent candidate and current Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said he will not permit Buglione to join any meetings until he has assumed office.

DiSalvo has not conceded the race at this time, and he said the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s Office should finish counting everyone’s votes.

On the other hand, he has accepted that he’s not going to be sheriff anymore.

Election results will be certified by the secretary of state on Dec. 5.

DiSalvo added that when it comes to the condition of the sheriff’s office, Buglione is “getting a car in perfect working order,” and he should be able to step into the role of sheriff on Day 1 without any trouble.

Halle is an award-winning journalist and the All Things Considered anchor for Aspen Public Radio. She has been recognized for her work by the Public Media Journalists Association and the Colorado Broadcasters Association. Before she began working full-time with Aspen Public Radio in September 2021, Halle was a freelance broadcast journalist for both Aspen Public Radio and KDNK. Halle studied environmental analysis at Pitzer College. She was an educator at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and at the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment program, where she taught youth radio and managed a weekly public affairs show.