Should Denver remove its citizenship requirement for police and fire jobs? Voters might decide in the fall

It’s something already underway in Aurora.
3 min. read
Relieved recruits smile at the one thing allowed to burn on “Hell Night,” a bonfire constructed from an old pickup truck stuffed with wood and straw, bookended by stacks of wooden pallets. The conflagration at the Denver Fire Training Center, Oct. 7, 2023, marks the end of training.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

Denver voters might decide whether the city should remove its citizenship requirement for police and fire department jobs, allowing people with certain work and residency qualifications to apply for roles in those departments. 

On Tuesday, City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee passed the potential ballot measure on to a full City Council vote. If City Council’s full body elects to put the question on the ballot, voters will then decide come November.

The proposed charter change would remove the citizenship requirement to serve in Denver’s police and fire departments. Applicants would still need to meet a number of other standards that apply to all potential recruits, including things like age and education requirements, physical and mental tests, and background checks. 

The potential change would apply to:

  • People with valid work authorization
  • People with legal permanent residency
  • People with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status who arrived in the U.S. as children. 

It would not allow new immigrants without legal documentation or work authorization to apply.

The Denver Sheriff and other city departments already allow qualified non-citizens to serve.

In 2016, the U.S. Justice Department and the Denver Sheriff's Department settled a lawsuit for $10,000 after finding that the department required applicants to be U.S. citizens to apply, something not allowed under the federal Immigration and Nationality Act.

In 2023, a state bill allowed DACA recipients to carry firearms, lifting a ban that was preventing an entire group from becoming police officers.

A number of other cities and states across the country, including Aurora, already allow certain non-citizens to serve in fire and police departments. 

City Council received letters of support from Fire Chief Desmond Fulton; Police Chief Ron Thomas; Denver’s Civil Service Commission, which oversees recruiting; and a number of nonprofits that work with immigrants. 

“I look forward to welcoming the experiences and unique talents of all of those who call Denver home into our department; these individuals will truly make us a better agency,” Thomas wrote in his letter.

The move comes as police departments in Denver and other cities struggle with understaffing and recruiting. 

In May, Denver’s former Civil Service Commission director was fired by fellow Commission members after claiming the city was lowering admission standards for recruits, including psychological evaluation standards, in a push to staff up and meet recruiting numbers.

“Nationwide, law enforcement agencies face recruitment challenges due to changing social attitudes, demographic shifts, and rising retirements,” the remaining Commission members wrote in a letter to Council. “These shortages have led to heightened officer burnout, longer response times, and impacts on daily patrols. Denver's move to consider non-citizen recruits aligns with many other jurisdictions addressing these issues.”

City leaders say Denver already sees otherwise qualified candidates interested in roles with police and fire departments. 

“We are actively turning people away who want a job like this,” said Council President Jamie Torres, who is co-sponsoring the measure with Councilmember Amanda Sandoval.

Sandoval said the timing of the potential ballot measure has nothing to do with the large influx of new immigrants who have come to Denver in the past two years, many of whom do not yet have legal residency or work authorization. 

“This was not for them. It can be for them, but they have to go through the same process as everyone else,” Sandoval said.

City Council will make a final vote on referring the amendment to the ballot on July 15.

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