Certified officers in demand throughout Garfield County
Challenge of recruiting, keeping certified law enforcement officers creates ripple effects throughout county
It’s taken the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office two years to fill position vacancies, Sheriff Lou Vallario said.
“Currently, we have three openings in detentions and one in patrol. We have a monthly testing process and may fill these by the end of this month,” Vallario said in an email last week.
“We’ve spent the last two years getting our numbers up and were down as many as 26 positions at one time; a majority in detentions. In 2020, we hired 38 people which included vacancies, turnover, terminations, etc.”
Vallario said being fully staffed has decreased stress, overtime and has allowed for more training opportunities.
“I’m not sure why we are almost fully staffed, because most law enforcement agencies across the country are struggling to hire due to the current environment (attack) in the profession,” Vallario said.
Vallario added almost all of his detention deputies are non-certified, which makes those vacant positions easier to fill.
“To be certified, you must attend an academy. That’s why almost all of our detention deputies are not certified. It would be impossible and cost prohibitive to certify everyone, and it would be much more difficult to fill those vacancies,” Vallario explained.
Glenwood Springs Police Department has 22 out of 28 sworn officer positions filled, along with an open administrative position, according to Lieutenant Bill Kimminau.
“We would like to add a minimum of four more sworn positions if the city had the funds,” Kimminau said.
Law enforcement agencies in the region in need of certified officers are able to tap into Colorado Mountain College’s law enforcement training program for new recruits.
Stewart Curry, program director for the college’s Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy, said he’s seen an increase in enrollment due to local agencies sponsoring students who have agreed to come back and work as a certified law enforcement officer for their sponsor.
Students undergo 630 hours of training and education spent in 60 different classes over the course of 16 weeks at the academy to become certified.
Curry said the academy offers a few classes that aren’t required by the state to receive a certificate, including a Spanish communication course. He added that knowing the basics of the Spanish language is critical in Colorado.
Many of the classes are scenario-based training, where students will learn how to interact with people in crisis states or have developmental disabilities.
There’s also a course in self care, which Curry said law enforcement officers must have in order to deal with the stresses of the job.
The academy costs $5,000 for students who live within the CMC district and $7,000 for students who live outside of the district.
Curry said the cost is one of the most affordable in the state, noting that the average cost to attend an academy in Colorado is about $10,000.
Grants are available to students who do not have a sponsorship, Curry added. The college helps connect students with those funding opportunities.
The students who go on to be great law enforcement officers usually don’t fit the stereotype, Curry said.
“They’re a little bit older, in their 30s and 40s. Maybe this was something they dreamt of doing when they were younger,” Curry said when describing the best recruits.
Those who often end up making great officers are the ones who come looking to start a second career, Curry added.
“They problem-solve better and have life experience,” he said.
The program has also seen an uptick in female students, with this semester being the second time in the program’s history that’s had more females than males.
The last time that happened was two years ago, Curry said.
More women are interested in law enforcement than before, which helps dispel the biggest misconception about the job.
“That misconception is that you have to be some big, strong guy. But really, good communication skills are what’s key,” Curry said.
Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein echoed Curry, saying the best recruits don’t have to be tough or have experience in self defense.
“We’re always looking for good communicators. If you can communicate well, we’ll teach you the rest,” Klein said. “It’s hard to teach someone how to communicate effectively.”
Klein said recruiting new officers is not as simple as posting a job opening and waiting for applications to come in.
“It’s a long-term plan and long-term goal. You’re always looking for someone who might make a good candidate,” Klein said.
Those with no firearm experience and haven’t shot a gun before are welcome to apply, Klein said.
“It’s actually good if you’ve never shot a gun before because you don’t have any bad habits. Those people really absorb what they’re being taught,” he said.
At the Rifle Police Department, the starting wage for an officer who has yet to complete their certification is $25 per hour.
The Rifle Police Department has been fortunate to have 21 officers on staff, two community service officers that handle code enforcement work and misdemeanor cases, a records and evidence manager and two office clerks.
“We are basically fully staffed, which is great. We have one in the academy and we have three open positions, but we are doing background investigations on three people for those position,” Klein said.
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