Off-road policing: 'Resident deputies' live in the remote areas where they work

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By AJ Vicens

When Jefferson County sheriff's Deputies Mike Sensano and Ronnie Newman head to work, they know they have a lot of backup.

Not so much from their fellow deputies — who are often 30 to 40 minutes away— but from residents of the remote and rugged communities where they live and work.

"We are a part of the community," said Sensano, a gruff Hawaiian with the calloused hands of a ranch hand. "And the community is part of us."

An argument can be made that all police officers are part of the communities where they work. But Sensano and Newman, "resident deputies" who live in county-funded homes near Buffalo Creek and Deckers, can make an even stronger case: The two are on call 24 hours a day in a 210-square-mile area in southwest Jeffco with only two paved roads.

Sensano has been a resident deputy for the last five years and was a K-9 deputy in various parts of Jeffco before that. Newman has done the job for six years and has served as a school resource officer at Evergreen High School and previously served as a traditional deputy in Jeffco and in Arkansas.

The pair carry specialized equipment that enables them to respond to myriad situations.

"This thing is pretty packed," Sensano said, pointing to his Ford Super Duty truck.

The two are trained in water rescue and fire suppression, and carry wetsuits and light firefighting equipment. They have rugged all-terrain vehicles in their trucks that can be equipped with tracks for snow. They're trained to drive a snow-cat that can carry up to 12 people, similar to the ones used at ski resorts. They carry powerful searchlights and survival vests complete with meals ready to eat, or MREs.

They also have large maps of the areas they patrol, but rarely refer to them because they know their beats so well.

But in light of their remote patrol areas and the terrain, the most important tools at their disposal may be their experience and personalities.

"You've got to know how to talk to people," Newman said. "Treat people with respect. Give them fair treatment and be consistent."

"If you sense something is wrong, there's always reverse on the truck," Sensano joked, referring to situations in which he or Newman may be outnumbered by suspicious types. "But I got cover from the community."

Newman said his connection with and respect for the community are keys to staying safe and getting the job done.

"Most people in town have my home phone number, and it doesn't bother me at all," Newman said.

The two listed plenty of positives about their jobs — great communities, plenty of wildlife, seeing more stars than city dwellers can imagine. But there are drawbacks.

"You don't have the ability to get somewhere quick," Sensano said. "And travel takes an outrageous amount of time," he added, referring to the drive to Golden for meetings at headquarters.

But their job as the county’s only two resident deputies has notable rewards.

Newman recalled one memorable day when he responded to a report of a man having a heart attack. Newman used his automated external defibrillator to get the man’s heart back into a normal rhythm — though it took four tries. Paramedics who responded half an hour after the call went out later told Newman he likely saved the man's life.

"I was pumped up for days on that call," Newman said. "It was the highlight of my whole career."

Sensano told of patrolling in a forest with the ATV when he saved a man who was minutes from committing suicide. He also told of finding lost hikers, helping to capture fugitives and responding to a hiker who had found a skull that turned out to be more than 100 years old.

Sensano added that in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention, he reported to federal agencies suspicious activity that he believed was related to the convention. He wouldn't elaborate.

Both men say they love the job, love where they work and love the people they serve.

"I love the diverse communities," Newman said.

"It's fantastic up here," Sensano said. "Everyone knows us or knows of us. … We enjoy working with the folks."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.