SOUTHERN COLORADO – It’s no secret the population growth is affecting law enforcement agencies in El Paso and Pueblo County.
It’s within these that we’ve seen the biggest influx of people, not just on the street, but in our jails.
these agencies tell me while they’re doing the best they can, they need more bodies and more money to ensure everyone’s safety.
Law enforcement agencies are doing what they can to keep up with crime. In El Paso County, the population has grown by about 91,000 since 2010. And calls for service are on the rise.
“On an annual basis, we’re now dealing with about 86,000 more calls for service,” said El Paso County Undersheriff Pete Carey.
“As a result, we’ve realized that on the law enforcement side as well as the detention side, we need more deputies. So we’re holding more academy classes than we ever have.”
Right now, you’ll find approximately 80 deputies on the street. But they could use ten to fifteen more.
Beyond recruitment and training, they want to keep deputies by fostering mentorships.
“The best recruiters for police officers are other police officers,” Carey said.
It’s a strategy Pueblo Police Department uses, too. “Our training is concentrated a lot on mentoring,” said Pueblo Police Chief Troy Davenport.
In Pueblo County, the population has grown by about 8,000 since 2010 . Pueblo PD currently has 207 officers on the force, though they plan to add 24 by 2022. It’s funded by a public safety tax approved in 2015.
Colorado Springs Police Department will add 120 new officers in the next four years, which is funded by the city.
Right now they’re at 736.
“As we get bigger, we need more people,” said Lt. Sokolik with Colorado Springs Police Department. “We can shrink the city as it were is having more officers more pre-positioned in locations, having officers available. So […] that extra 120 is one way to combat just that size.”
The catch is their officers are aging at the same time.
“You never get to your authorized manpower because people retire, sometimes they get hurt they move on for different reasons,” Davenport explained. “But we are very committed to keeping it as close to that authorized manpower as we possibly can.”
“You have the natural aging of our police department and the natural retirement cycles,” Sokolik added.
Adding more strain to resources to sheriff’s deputies is the growing inmate population in county jails.
“In the next five or six years, we’ll have well exceeded our capacity in our jail,” Carey pointed out.
Pueblo County is already operating above capacity, with more than 700 inmates in a space meant for a little more than 500.
“Quite frankly, [we are] bursting at the seams here,” Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor emphasized.
Taylor says he could use 20 more deputies in the jail alone, and credits the influx to a new state law changing drug felonies to misdemeanors.
These felony cases would previously get handled by the state prison system.
But now, “The only potential penalty for those misdemeanor cases is county jails,” he said.
Both jails are often forced to transfer inmates to other county jails.
“We’re blessed to have some partners in other counties that actually will take some of the department of correction clients,” Carey said. “Anywhere there’s room, we’ll send inmates,” Taylor added.
Taylor says in Pueblo, it’s time to build a new one, and he wants to put it up to the voters again this fall.
“This is almost the perfect perfect storm,” he said. “Not only have we seen an increase in average daily population, [but] we are also in an extremely aging building.”
While El Paso County Undersheriff Pete Carey says it’s time to find other treatment options.
“[There is a] significant number of people that are in the jail that have ongoing mental health issues and the decision needs to be made, is that the right place to help them to get treatment?” he asked.
And even though there’s still a need for more deputies and officers on the street and in the jails, these law enforcement agencies credit the ones they do have for going the extra mile to keep citizens safe, as they find ways to alleviate their burden.
“My deputies work incredibly hard,” Taylor said. Davenport added, “Pueblo Police Department is committed to delivering the very best service that we can.”
“Our officers are dedicated, they love their job. that’s why they do this,” Sokolik said. Carey added, “We continue to recruit for the best of the best and hope they end up at the sheriff’s office.”
Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office and El Paso County Sheriff’s Office are also looking for people to join their emergency dispatch team.
Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office is looking to hire three emergency dispatchers, while El Paso County Sheriff’s Office is looking to hire ten in June.