MORRISON, Colo. — The town of Morrison has a reputation for being a ticket trap, and that’s because it is. A report prepared for the town this year found that 98% of all calls initiated by officers in Morrison were traffic stops.
Police Chief Misty Siderfin leaves the job Thursday, resigning just three months after she was hired. The pressure to keep up that infamous ticket trap may have played a big role.
At a board meeting on Oct. 5, she told town leaders the department would bring in $300,000 worth of fines in 2022. That comes after the town had brought in only $232,000 in fines and forfeitures in 2021 as of October 5, $869,000 short of the $1,101,000 that was estimated when the town approved its budget for 2021. That's according to budget documents on the Town of Morrison's website.
Two days later, she submitted her letter of resignation.
"At this point in time, I am unable to continue within this role due [to] the limited resources, lack of financial stability and budgeting for the Police Department," Siderfin wrote, in part, in her resignation letter submitted on October 7.
George Mumma knows Siderfin's predicament well. He was the police chief in Morrison for nearly three years, but retired in August of 2020 after he says the town manager wanted his department to write more tickets instead of focus on community policing.
"The entire budget was based on traffic tickets," Mumma said. "Ethically, I could not do that."
Mumma was still at the department during the lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic. He said the town still wanted officers to wait on C-470 to write tickets to any speeding drivers. Of course, there were nearly no cars on the road back then, which impacted the revenue coming into the town.
"Since the budget is traffic tickets, everything that we did was based on it. I know that during my time there, our budget continually dropped because we weren’t bringing in traffic tickets," said Mumma. "Writing an entire budget worth of traffic tickets to fund a police department was not something that I could do in an ethical manner."
"After being a cop for 40-plus years, that’s not the way I work."
He’s now a commander with the Edgewater Police Department and a Republican candidate for Jefferson County sheriff.
In-part, the firm found officers were pressured to write traffic tickets to subsidize the town’s budget. In 2021, nearly half of the town’s $2.6 million budget came from fines. The other half came from taxes along with other smaller sources of revenue.
In 2017, the report found revenue from tickets in Morrison brought in $1,165,874. In 2018, the number was $899,659. In 2019 it was $935,934. In 2020 fines brought $820,180 for the town.
The town's budget projected the police department would bring in $1,101,000 in 2021. Chief Siderfin notified the board in early October that number would only be $300,000 in 2022.
"I guess I just don’t know how a little town like Morrison gets out of that sort of addiction to writing tickets to supplement their revenue," said Lonnie Schaible, an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver who focuses on policing.
Schaible said a town that focusses solely on writing tickets can face problems.
"I think it’s a dangerous trap for a department to rely on as a sole source of revenue because it pushes a lot of abusive behavior," said Schaible.
The report written by KRW was not released to the public on the town of Morrison's website. 9NEWS obtained the report through a public record's request.
In it, the consulting firm determines a series of "overall common themes" from confidential interviews with Morrison Police employees. Among them are these findings:
- "The pay at Morrison PD is low compared to similar agencies"
"There is a perception within the police department that somewhere within the Town of Morrison, pressure has developed over the years for the officers to write traffic tickets."
- "Officers have to purchase some of their own police gear."
"Ultimately, modern policing is about more than just generating revenue by giving tickets," said Robert Preuhs, chair of the political science department at Metropolitan State University of Denver. "Any time you’re making tradeoffs, moving personnel away from ticketing, you’re risking your revenue stream."
Preuhs said if there's only one stream of revenue funding a town, the pressure to write more tickets is higher.
"If people actually obey the law and don’t speed, you don’t have much revenue," said Preuhs. "Any time you have a downturn in that particular stream, a whole lot of pressure goes on both the city generally and ultimately you end up with reductions in services."
One of the recommendations the report made was to close down the department completely and let the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office take over permanently. The report said that would be a solution to the town’s dependence on writing traffic tickets for revenue. Of course, the town would then have to find a new way to make money and this recommendation was not adopted.
The mayor of Morrison told 9NEWS at a town board meeting Tuesday night he does not plan to close the department.
9NEWS reached out to every member of the Morrison Board of Trustees, the mayor, town manager and the current chief. No one responded to a request for an interview.
Morrison will now pay the Jefferson County more than $20,000 a month to run patrols in the area as Mumma waits to see if his former department will return.
"If I were to look at it now with what’s going on, there’s no way I would take that job," said Mumma. "It’s too demanding for what they’re asking and I don’t see a way to recover from it."
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Full Episodes of Next with Kyle Clark