DENVER — After being extremely short-staffed for more than a year, the Denver Police Department could soon be able to replenish the well thanks to the mayor's proposed 2022 budget.
"We’ve had significant staffing challenges, really a staffing crisis," Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said.
This week, Pazen presented a proposed budget for 2022 of $245,934,787, a big boost from 2021’s pandemic stricken budget of $229,528,726 but still less than the 2020 budget of $254,232,365.
"There is an economic impact of the pandemic. There is $190-$200 million budget shortfall, every agency in the city had to make cuts. We made cuts, which means we couldn’t hire 97 officers," Pazen said.
If city council approves the budget, nearly $8 million would go to hiring 144 new officers, which Pazen said they need now more than ever. He said officers are being stretched thin working overtime to patrol areas like LoDo, which has seen an increase in crime over the summer.
"Year to date through Sunday, we have a 7.2% increase in calls for service. Folks calling 911," Pazen said. "At the same time, we have about an 8% decrease in staffing, so we have less officers and more work."
Mark Silverstein with the ACLU thinks the staff shortage presents the chance to think outside of the box.
"Maybe the police department being down a number of officers is a good opportunity to look at what functions maybe could be performed by civilians other than police officers," Silverstein sadi.
Silverstein proposes looking into a civilian traffic unit like other cities are trying out.
"If armed police aren’t the one stopping you from speeding, it could dramatically reduce really horrible police citizen confrontation," Silverstein said.
Pazen didn’t specifically mention traffic units, but did say they would like to hire civilian staff to help with some of the calls.
The department already lost 99 officers who either quit or retired this year and Pazen expects another 20 to 30 to follow by the end of the year for varying reasons.
"There are some folks, just like any other industries, that go on a different fields — that’s a part of it. There are some folks, the scrutiny is impacting their decisions," Pazen said.
In the last five years, the department averaged only 75 departures.
For 2021, the city has moved money around in the budget to bring in a new class of 41 officers in October.
The Denver Sheriff's Office said it's also down staff. They're authorized to have 874 staff members, but only 676 positions are filled. From Jan. 1, 2020 through Sept. 10, the sheriff's office has lost a total of 187 staff members, with 42 retiring and 18 transferring to another position within the city. They're currently recruiting for their November academy.