Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said Tuesday that department staffing shortages were caused by last year’s budget shortfall, leading the agency to face vacancies despite not having issues with overall recruiting.
Speaking during Denver City Council’s budget hearings, Pazen said the department has lost 99 officers since January, and the $7.6 million requested for the department’s 2022 budget would help pay for 144 recruits for next year’s classes. Pazen said he expects roughly 30 more cops will leave the department by the end of the year.
Pazen said these recruits would help restore the department’s numbers, not add additional cops, and get the department back to its authorized strength. Pazen noted Denver police wasn’t the only city agency to be impacted by the budget shortfall last year, which totaled $211 million.
“It’s likely going to take us two years to bounce back,” Pazen said after Tuesday’s hearing. “As you’re trying to fill those vacancies, you still have folks that are retiring, and so our attritions is generally around that 75 to 80 (officers a year).”
As of July 31, DPD had an authorized strength of 1,596 officers, with 67 vacancies. However, the department also uses something called “adjusted effective strength” which takes into consideration recruits, officers on leave and officers on modified duty, to measure its staffing. That number is 1,438, according to Denver police, and this number reflects the number of cops able to respond to calls for service and who are working normal assignments.
While more cops than usual retired or quit this year, Pazen said the department isn’t having issues with overall recruiting. When Councilmember Kendra Black asked whether people have become less interested in the job, Pazen said the department got more than 700 applicants for its October recruit class.
“This wasn’t an easy job two years ago,” Pazen said. “It’s becoming more and more challenging.”
Next door in Aurora, the police department is also having issues with staffing, and nationwide, more and more cops are leaving their jobs amid the increased scrutiny faced by departments following protests against police violence and calls for more accountability. Denver police last year faced criticism for the way it handled those protests locally.
The department’s overall proposed 2022 budget is $245.9 million, a 7.2 percent increase over 2021’s budget. The entire proposed budget for the city is $1.49 billion. Denver City Council is hosting budget hearings to give each city agency and department a chance to explain how they will use the money. The council has the final say on the budget.
Denver police officers are getting raises starting next year, following contract negotiations last year that required an independent arbitrator to settle after Denver City Council initially rejected the contract.