DENVER — The corner of Colfax Avenue and Race Street seems like an unlikely place for a recruiting billboard advertising the Spokane County Sheriff's Office, but it was intentional move with the goal of making a statement.
"I have a lot of friends that work in the Colorado area, and they’re all looking to leave, and that gave me an idea of putting billboards in Colorado — in the Denver area specifically — to let people know that there are agencies that do value you, and we are hiring," said Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who has been heading up the department for 15 years.
Knezovich said although they are looking for new recruits from all over the United States, he decided to put up billboards in Denver, Portland and the greater Seattle area. He said he has already received 23 applications, but didn't know if any of those are from Denver.
"Those cities, their leadership has shown that they really didn’t value their law enforcement — didn’t stand behind their law enforcement," Knezovich said.
He specifically pointed to a recent police reform bill in Colorado that ended the qualified immunity defense, which often protects police from being sued.
"A law enforcement officer has to make a decision sometimes within split seconds, and qualified immunity, contrary to what the activists will tell you, did not protect us from being sued. It protected us from frivolous lawsuits," Knezovich said.
Denver City Councilman Kevin Flynn said the sheriff needs to look at another question when it comes to recruiting.
“I really think they’re fishing in the wrong pond. The real question they ought to be asking themselves is why is it so hard to get people to want to move to Spokane?" Flynn said.
Flynn said a recent poll showed Denverites want police staffing to stay the same or increase, and he said only 16% of people wanted to see a reduction in the number of officers.
"The fact is we have two recruit classes this year, and we’re not having trouble filling them at all," said Flynn. "When I see something like that, it makes me realize folks outside of Denver really don’t understand Denver."
A spokesperson for the Denver Police Department released the following statement in response to the recruiting effort:
The Denver Police Department and Denver community value our police officers, and the Department remains committed to doing everything possible to ensure our officers have the opportunities, training and support necessary to thrive while keeping our neighborhoods safe. For additional context on this issue, the Denver Police Department traditionally loses very few officers as laterals to other law enforcement agencies.