Understaffing in local law enforcement agencies hinders ability to patrol downtown
Local law enforcement agencies are feeling the effects of being chronically understaffed while struggling to find qualified candidates to fill positions
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Joseph Deras lamented his department’s inability to maintain a constant presence downtown during a virtual public forum Monday night.
“We don’t have all the officers that we are currently authorized for Glenwood Springs,” Deras said.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario echoed Deras’ comments, saying that finding the right candidates is the biggest hurdle.
“I would rather not lower our standards to fill patrol cars on the street and be opened up to civil lawsuits,” Vallario said.
Vallario said inability to hire qualified officers is a nationwide problem, adding that in the last two years his office has been significantly shorthanded.
“We were down as many as 26 positions,” Vallario said. “It’s difficult to keep ahead of that and maintain that.”
Deras said his department has beefed up on de-escalation tactics and training, but explained that police officers aren’t qualified to provide mental health services in the field, though they frequently encounter those in need of such services.
“Unfortunately, society has shifted to relying on law enforcement to solve much of society’s ills. Because we’re 24 hours, there’s really no one else to call,” Deras said.
“When we arrive on scene to a crisis, they’re not really excited to see us,” he added. “Oftentimes they put us in a situation where the police officer has to defend themselves.”
Ninth District Attorney Jefferson Cheney added further context to what law enforcement and the criminal justice system can and cannot do due to legal limitations.
“When the (district attorney) gets involved with a case it’s typically when the person makes their first court appearance,” Cheney said. “Charging decisions of more serious crimes are made by the District Attorney’s Office while law enforcement officers determine lesser crime charges.
“We do trust our law enforcement partners in the field to make those decisions based on what they’re seeing, the evidence they’re gathering and the set of circumstances, since it is their boots on the ground at the time.”
Cheney then made a reference to two separate incidents involving the same man, who is now facing several misdemeanor charges as a result.
Two incidents involving a Glenwood Springs man have caused an uproar on social media.
On Feb. 20, Sean D. Hurt, 37, allegedly hit a 33-year-old man after taking issue with being refused service at a downtown business. Two days later, Hurt was arrested and charged with harassment and resisting arrest after allegedly causing another disturbance downtown.
The charges filed against Hurt have gone to the District Attorney’s Office for review.
“I cannot comment on the case or the individual that has given rise to the recent attention,” Cheney said.
Cheney said it would be a violation of civil conduct to comment on a case that was still under investigation.
“We still have to understand and respect that that person is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” Cheney said.
When asked why the individual was released from custody, Cheney said pretrial incarceration is considered pre-conviction punishment.
“Law enforcement is there to respond when those things happen and we’re here to prosecute if those things happen,” Cheney said. “And that’s our job and it’s a job we take seriously.”
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