The economy is moving slowly toward recovery and in law enforcement, like many industries, jobs are beginning to open up again.
Bigger departments on the Front Range are opening their doors to new hires and many local officers are ready to take them up on the promise of higher pay, lower cost of living and more action on the job.
Unable to compete, local departments are again beginning to struggle to keep well-trained and qualified people on staff.
The Summit County Sheriff’s Office currently has one deputy applying for a job with the Denver Police Department. Another is looking at a post in Washington state.
Denver PD ended a more than four year hiring freeze last fall and was on track to bring on 100 new officers in 2013, according to the agency’s website.
“When a big agency like Denver and Aurora (starts hiring), it has a ripple effect,” Sheriff John Minor said. “They’ll pull from communities like ours.”
Communities that have invested time and public funding to train law enforcement officers and can’t always afford to raise salaries to keep them around.
Starting patrol deputies for the sheriff’s office can start off at an annual salary of approximately $45,000. Denver PD pays a police officer 4th grade more than $51,000 and salaries are set to increase next year, according to documentation on the department’s website.
Other factors in many officers’ decision to take jobs on the Front Range, from climate to cost of living, are out of local agency’s hands.
“We certainly do have people that want to go work in the metro area. They want the call volume, they want to see the bigger cases,” Breckenridge police chief Shannon Haynes said. “In addition to that, we struggle with (the fact that) you can get paid more in the metro area and you can buy a house for less money. It does affect our ability to retain folks.”
In Breckenridge, police officers tend to remain on staff between two and four years, leaving the department with a young team and a shortage of seasoned veterans.
The issue is forcing local officials to get creative. Haynes said retention is a top priority from the start of the hiring process.
“We are looking for people who really want to be here,” she said.
But the staffing success story in Summit County seems to be Silverthorne. Chief Mark Hanschmidt says department officials attend police academy career days, often recruiting future officers face-to-face before they graduate and keep them on board by offering them the one thing a big metro department won’t: extensive training.
“I try to get five years out of our cops,” Hanschmidt said. “I don’t have these guys sign contracts, but I tell them, ‘I’m going to send you to a bunch of training. And after five years, then when you’re ready to move to the Front Range, you’ll have all this on your resume.’”
He says the agreement works. Silverthorne is fully staffed except for one sergeant position, which the chief has intentionally held open, and it has been some time since the department lost an officer to the Front Range, according to Hanschmidt.
“We’re in good shape,” he said.