Law enforcement agencies find new ways to address understaffing |

Law enforcement agencies find new ways to address understaffing

The Steamboat Springs Police Department has struggled to hire and retain local recruits even after expanding its recruitment tactics to use increased wages and added benefits to entice candidates to Steamboat.
Matt Stensland/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

Struggling to fill their staffs, Colorado’s law enforcement agencies are taking new avenues to hire and retain certified law enforcement officers.

Colorado State Patrol and the Steamboat Springs Police Department are two agencies taking some of the largest hits. Specifically, both are scrambling to get patrol officers on the road in a year with numerous car wrecks and other calls.

To address patrol staffing shortages, the police department entered an agreement with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office this year to supplement patrols when the police department cannot fill its shifts. When the police department is short patrol officers, on-duty sheriff’s deputies have stepped in to help.

“Patrol is the backbone of any police station,” Steamboat Springs Interim Police Chief Mark Beckett said. “We are trying to keep patrol as staffed as we can to keep our level of service up.”

Beckett said the police department currently has 11 law enforcement and seven civilian positions open.

In terms of obtaining new hires, Beckett said that one of the biggest obstacles the department faces is housing. The department traditionally aims to recruit people locally who may already have a place to live in Steamboat, but Beckett said the department is beginning to run out of people in the area to recruit. 

This issue spans Colorado with counties all over the state trying to make these law enforcement positions more enticing, even causing a wage war. 

“All these mountain towns have gotten into this war where we are trying to keep our wages competitive, but it creates an unsustainable salary,” Beckett said. “We can’t all keep fighting over it, so we are trying to focus on increasing things like benefits.”

Colorado State Patrol is feeling the impacts of a similar staffing shortage. News outlets in Colorado reported that as of December, state patrol had 120 trooper vacancies. According to state patrol, all of those vacancies remain.

“We are feeling the understaffing really badly. We come into this job with the desire to save lives, and one of the ways you do that is by being proactive,” CSP Sgt. Troy Kessler said. “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of reactive work in terms of responding to crashes and other calls to service, (and) the troopers aren’t able to do what they came here for because they are so short-staffed.” 

To combat understaffing and improve hiring and retention rates, Colorado State Patrol is making changes to the structure of its academy. Historically, state patrol had two classes per year. The agency is now trying to do a rolling academy where it has a class every 12 weeks in hopes of getting more troopers through the academy.

Kessler said the hope with this new process is to get 110 new troopers every year. This upcoming year the academy will have an April, August, October and January class. The April class is a “lateral class” and will be for previously certified officers. This class will run 13 weeks, as opposed to the usual 23 weeks, expediting the process. 

As the Steamboat Springs Police Department and Colorado State Patrol work to get more officers on the road, the police department still has to address seven open civilian positions.

According to Beckett, those seven open civilian positions include important roles, namely animal control and community services officers. Sworn officers often end up having to pick up the slack for those positions, increasing the officers’ workload and complicating things overall for the department. 

The department has adjusted to its vacancies by spreading out the workload. For example, the hiring officer also serves as a detective.

Officials at the police department expect to fill four of the law enforcement positions with three people in the midst of field training and another in the Colorado Mountain College Law Enforcement Academy in Glenwood Springs. 

Still, one detective position, one sergeant-detective position, one administrative sergeant position and four patrol officer positions need to be filled. 

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