During the last year, too many people left their jobs in law enforcement. The challenges of recruiting and retaining people in law enforcement deserve statewide attention.
In 2020, according to data reported to the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, we experienced a 5% reduction in certified peace officers employed statewide. The data we have from 2021, moreover, suggests that agencies have been able to fill only 73% of the vacancies left by departing peace officers – not only municipal police, but sheriff deputies and other law-enforcement roles.
To protect public safety and serve the public, we need to find new ways to elevate and invest in policing. That’s why my recent budget request to the General Assembly highlighted this need and asked for millions of dollars in new funds to recruit and retain peace officers.
The Colorado Department of Law is leading a much-needed effort to redesign the curriculums at law-enforcement training academies. With advancements in training techniques of law-enforcement officers, we are working to provide more effective guidance on how to interact with and support persons in crisis by teaching first responders about ethical decision making under stress, as well as to train law-enforcement officers to better support one another.
This effort will benefit both the law-enforcement profession and communities they serve by ensuring that officers have tools to avoid tense situations from escalating. To elevate the training academies’ curriculum and improve training, the department is pushing for funding for this critical priority.
As we work to improve law-enforcement training, we also must invest in recruiting talented individuals to enter this important profession. That’s why the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board developed a “My Why” series, promoting the good work of law-enforcement officers — 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 are sharing these stories to remind everyone what motivates officers to serve and to protect others.
To help retain talented officers, my department has requested that the General Assembly invest $10 million to support more effective recruitment, retention, and support of police officers. The standards and training board already has developed a pilot project, supporting rural law-enforcement offices by providing scholarships for cadets, but we must do more. The General Assembly previously developed a program for encouraging teachers to enter the field and serve in underserved parts of our state; we would be wise to develop a similar program supporting law-enforcement recruitment in Colorado’s rural communities.
As we reflect on the loss of peace officers departing the profession, no cause is more painful and tragic than those officers who die by suicide. Police officers, deputies or deputy sheriffs, state troopers, and marshals all serve the public in some of the most trying situations. This means peace officers are regularly confronting trauma that others are dealing with, and this also creates trauma for the involved peace officer.
The standards and training board and I are dedicated to making wellness a part of law-enforcement training. We must provide financial support so law-enforcement agencies have the resources to hire trained professionals who can be there to support their team members.
In one rural county, for example, the sheriff has made that very investment, explaining that a mental-health professional on his team helped keep several individuals on the force in the last year alone. This investment not only bolsters retention efforts, but also improves the quality of life of law-enforcement officers who regularly confront traumatic situations on the job.
As we move to invest in effective policing, we must better support our police and sheriffs, starting with better law-enforcement academy training and investing significant dollars for greater retention and mental health resources.
We have that opportunity in Colorado. The Peace Officer Standards and Training Board and I are committed to supporting law enforcement. Working with the General Assembly, we will make that happen.
Phil Weiser, of Denver, is attorney general of Colorado and serves as chair of the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.
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