In the past year, too many people have quit their law enforcement jobs. The challenges of recruiting and retaining law enforcement deserve statewide attention.
In 2020, according to data reported to the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, we saw a 5% reduction in the number of certified peace officers employed statewide. Additionally, data available to us from 2021 suggests that agencies were only able to fill 73% of the vacancies left by outgoing peace officers – not just city police, but sheriff’s deputies. and other law enforcement roles.
To protect public safety and serve the public, we must find new ways to improve and invest in policing. That is why my recent budget request to the General Assembly underscored this need and requested millions of dollars in new funds to recruit and retain peace officers.
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The Colorado Law Department is leading a much needed effort to rethink the curricula at law enforcement training academies. Through advancements in law enforcement training techniques, we strive to provide more effective guidance on how to interact and support people in crisis by teaching first responders about ethical decision making. in stressful situations, as well as to train law enforcement officers to better support each other.
This effort will benefit both law enforcement and the communities they serve by ensuring officers have the necessary tools to prevent situations of tension from escalating. To enhance the training academies program and improve training, the ministry is pushing for funding for this critical priority.
As we strive to improve law enforcement training, we must also invest in recruiting talented people to enter this important profession. This is why the Commission for the Standards and Training of Peace Officers has drawn up a “My why” series, promoting the good work of law enforcement officials – from cadets to chiefs and sheriffs – and giving them a platform to explain why they choose to wear the badge and serve the public, and to encourage others to enter the profession. We share these stories to remind everyone what motivates officers to serve and protect others.
To help retain talented officers, my department has asked the General Assembly to invest $ 10 million to support more effective recruitment, retention and support of police officers. The Standards and Training Council has already developed a pilot project, supporting rural law enforcement offices by offering scholarships to cadets, but we need to do more. The General Assembly previously developed a program to encourage teachers to step into the field and serve in underserved areas of our state; we would be wise to develop a similar program supporting law enforcement recruiting in rural Colorado communities.
As we reflect on the loss of peace officers leaving the profession, no cause is more painful and tragic than officers who commit suicide. Police officers, deputies or deputy sheriffs, state soldiers and marshals all serve the public in some of the most difficult situations. This means that peace officers regularly face trauma that others face, which also creates trauma for the peace officer concerned.
The Standards and Training Council and I are committed to making welfare a part of law enforcement training. We need to provide financial support so that law enforcement agencies have the resources to hire qualified professionals who can be there to support their team members.
In a rural county, for example, the sheriff made the investment, explaining that a mental health professional on his team has helped keep several people in the force in the past year alone. This investment not only strengthens retention efforts, but also improves the quality of life of law enforcement officers who regularly face traumatic situations at work.
As we invest in effective policing, we need to better support our officers and sheriffs, starting with better training in law enforcement academies and investing significant sums for greater retention and resources. in mental health.
We have this opportunity in Colorado. The Peace Officer Training and Standards Commission and I are committed to supporting law enforcement. Together with the General Assembly, we will achieve this.
Phil Weiser, of Denver, is Attorney General of Colorado and Chairman of the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.
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