Community Champions: Sterling Police Department’s Sgt. Russell Baca puts emphasis on youth outreach

Community Champions: Sterling Police Department’s Sgt. Russell Baca puts emphasis on youth outreach

For a decade now Sgt. Russell Baca has been helping to keep the community of Sterling safe, but when he first arrived here he had no idea he would find a career in law enforcement with a department that today he wouldn’t dream of leaving.

Baca joined the Sterling Police Department in 2012. Prior to becoming a police officer, he worked for Wal-Mart for eight years, but then he decided he wanted a change and was looking for something outside of retail.

“This is completely different. I started looking into it and really enjoyed what I saw and here I am,” he said about what made him decide to go into law enforcement.

Sgt. Russ Baca of the Sterling Police Department (center) shows Crime Scene Investigation students and Explorers how evidence collected at a crime scene is collected in bags that are sealed to prevent tampering.

While retail wasn’t for him, he is grateful that it brought him to Sterling. When he was with Wal-Mart he started off in the Colorado Springs area, then he was promoted to assistant manager and the company sent him to its Sterling location, where he worked as one of the assistant managers for two years.

“My wife and I really liked it up here, thought it was a good place to be for our kids. When I decided to actually become a police officer this is actually the only place I applied to and they decided to take a chance and hire me,” Baca said.

It’s a decision he hasn’t regretted.

“The department is great; they do everything they can to make you feel welcome, to the extent that they can. They’re very family oriented, so if you have something going on, they try their best to get you there, to get it taken care of, to do whatever you need,” Baca said, recalling when he first started and his wife was pregnant with their third child, top officials including the late Chief Roy Breivik, Tyson Kerr who was a Commander at the time and Commander Richard Kelsch all donated time off to him so that he could take more time to be with his newborn child.

Throughout his time with SPD he has placed an emphasis on working with youth in the community. When he first came on board he got involved in the department’s Kops ‘N Kids program, which has officers visit local schools on a regular basis to talk with students about a variety of subjects, such as a bicycle, traffic and personal safety, and provides an opportunity for the students and officers to create a positive and friendly atmosphere in which to communicate.

When Baca finished his probationary period with SPD, he quickly jumped at the opportunity to be a low line advisor for the department’s Explorer’s Program, which gives young adults an opportunity to explore a career in law enforcement. Now, Baca runs SPD Explorer’s Post #322 with the help of Detective Nicholas Cantrell.

“I like working with kids, teaching them things,” Baca said. “It’s just fun to deal with the kids, to see them learning, it’s different then even teaching like our new guys, because they come in and already have their own attitudes and their own ways of doing things, whereas the kids we can start with them as little as 10 years old and they just look up to everything you say.”

Right now, the Explorer Club, which is for ages 10-13, has eight participants and the actual Explorer’s Post, for ages 14-21, has five or six participants.

“It can be pretty demanding, but again still fun and the little ones they enjoy it and they like to learn,” Baca said, explaining that with the younger ones it can be a challenge to find activities that keep their attention while still making it educational for them, but it’s something he enjoys.

Sgt. Russ Baca of the Sterling Police Department goes for a shot in the Sterling Comets game Monday, March 14, 2017.

When he’s not working with the Explorers, you can find him on the basketball court taking on the Sterling Comets in their annual game against the Badges. He has yet to be able to bowl with the Adult Special Olympics team because the tournament has always fallen on a day that he works, but he has hopes that he will get to soon, because he loves bowling.

“It’s fun to work with them too, just to give them the excitement they get from beating us yearly is wonderful,” Baca said about the annual basketball game.

While he does enjoy the fun and games, his job can be quite dangerous at times too. In 2015, he and two other officers received SPD’s Live Saving Award in 2015 for their assistance in response to a stabbing incident. They were given a plaque that noted, in part, their “extremely courageous actions… in confronting a highly aggressive subject, stopping his threat, rendering aid and thereby saving the life of his intended victim.”

When it comes to the time he spends out patrolling the streets, one of his favorite parts of the job is interacting with the community and the fact that no day is the same, even if he responds to the same type of calls multiple times in a day, each one is something completely different.

“The people you get to meet, whether they’re it’s a victim that you’re trying to help or the guy that did whatever, it’s just an experience that 90% of the people out there don’t get to see. It’s fun, it’s trying sometimes, but it’s fun,” Baca said.

Of course, police work comes with plenty of challenges too. One of his biggest frustrations lately has been lawmakers who don’t understand what police do but seek to make rules for them and trying to explain changes to the law that people might not understand, for example only being able to ticket and not arrest someone in possession of meth, if its four grams or less, because in 2020 that became a misdemeanor charge instead of a felony.

Baca said the negative outlook that most of American seems to have on law enforcement right now has made the job more challenging and made it very difficult to get a lot of good qualified applicants, but he feels fortunate to live to be in a community that is very supportive of law enforcement.

“I think out here the majority of the people out here really do know us and know what we do; big city it would probably be a little bit different, but I think a lot of the people in Sterling are very much behind us on everything and they interact with us a lot more,” Baca said.

One of the biggest things he wishes more people would understand about police work is that police officers are not RoboCop, they make mistakes sometimes just like everyone else. He also encouraged people to keep in mind that just because it may take an officer some time to follow up on your call does not mean they’ve forgotten about it, it’s just that there are only so many hours in a day and they have other things on their plate too.

“It’s not that we forget about things, but it can be a very demanding job, especially overnights. You have basically about from 6 p.m. when you come in until about 10 p.m. to try and contact people, because I don’t like going knocking at people’s door at one o’clock in the morning to say, ‘hey, last week somebody said you stole something.’ Sometimes you have to though,” Baca said.

While others might see Sterling as a stepping stone, a decade into his service at SPD Baca has no thoughts of moving on to somewhere else.

“I still love this department and all of the people in it. I don’t know if another agency would be the same, so there’s no thoughts of leaving anytime soon,” he said, expressing appreciative for his colleagues underneath him who make his job easy because they know what they’re doing and do it well.

He still often thinks back to what his friend the late Barry Winckler told him. Even though he had worked at several other departments and was even police chief in Holyoke for a time, Winckler always told Baca that the SPD was the best department he had ever worked for.

“I look at that and I don’t know if I would want to be a police officer anywhere else. If something happened and I did leave, I don’t know if I would stay in law enforcement, because I think it would be hard to match what this is,” Baca said.

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