Posted on October 5, 2018

When Diversity Thrives in Rural Colorado, Police Face Same Obstacles as Big Cities

Esther Honig, KUNC, October 4, 2018

On a summer evening, police Sgt. Anthony Gagliano patrols the long, open streets of Fort Morgan, Colorado. He’s lived here for the last 16 years, almost as long as he’s been on the force. There’s one thing he knows sets apart this rural city of about 11,000: the diversity.

“You have the Ethiopians, you have the Somalians, you have the Congo. Some are speaking French some are speaking (…) I guess I don’t even know all the different languages,” he said.

According to Eric Ishiwata, a professor in the ethnic studies department at Colorado State University, the town’s population was predominantly white in the 1970s. By the early 2000s the demographics began changing as more Latino and foreign-born residents came to the area. The town’s largest employer, the beef plant Cargill, attracts workers from across the U.S., many of whom are immigrants and refugees.

Today it’s one of the most diverse places in Colorado and according to Ishiwata a “majority minority” city.

For years the town’s demographics shifted quickly. Language barriers and cultural differences created obstacles for police officers like Gagliano. But in the last few years the police department has begun working to overcome that.

As he drives, Gagliano remembers a time when officers didn’t get many calls from the town’s new arrivals. He suspects some crimes went unreported.


In the past, tensions surfaced between the town’s long-term residents and those who had arrived more recently — like in 2014 when, according to Fort Morgan police, several cars belonging to East African refugees were painted with racial slurs. In a separate incident, car windows were shot out with a BB gun. Police investigated it as a hate crime.


The story was covered by several media outlets an hour away in Denver. According to Fort Morgan police, as investigation was carried out but it never turned up any viable suspects. No one was ever charged with the crime.


Paul Schultz said Fort Morgan deals with many of the same issues as a big city, but with fewer resources. Since taking the position of director of public safety in 2017, he’s worked to implement many of the recommendations he developed in his study.

Like many departments across the country, Fort Morgan has a goal to diversify its officers. So far Schultz has hired two more female officers and three officers fluent in Spanish — a first for the department. As a long-term goal, he’d like to hire what may be the first Somali officer in Colorado.


{snip} For the first time this year, police were invited to attend celebrations during Ramadan. Police have also been asked to park outside the town mosque during services for security.


But there have been hiccups. Last year the department organized a community BBQ and served pork hot dogs. Pork isn’t sanctioned in some religions, including Islam.

Schultz insists that in the coming years they’ll have all-beef hot dogs.