DENVER — The Denver Police Department has a car problem. They have too many broken vehicles and not enough mechanics to fix them.
About 120 police cars, or 8% of its fleet, are now out of service waiting for repairs. To make matters worse, and adding to the pileup at the garage, since last August, the department has lost 40 percent of its mechanics and body shop workers, many of whom have left for higher-paying jobs.
As a result, the garage is down to 17 technicians, down from 28.
"We're competing with all of the industries that are looking for quality employees to hire, so we're in that same struggle," said Chief Ron Thomas, head of the department's patrol division.
Thomas said the labor shortage in the department's garage is as severe as any he has seen in his 32 years on the job. Despite that, he said so far the shortage of patrol cars has not affected the department's ability to respond to 911 calls.
"Certainly we have less cars on the street than we would like to," Thomas said. "We're having challenges having to switch out cars mid-shift so we don't have to pair up too many officers. We are able to overcome that certainly with creative staffing to make sure we are able to meet that need of serving the public, but certainly it is a challenge."
Adding to the problem is that, because of city budget cuts, the department said it was only able to buy 28 new cars this year instead of the 180 they requested – which is why a lot of older cars that were scheduled to be taken out of service are still on the road.
"That is true, and certainly the concern there is the wear and tear and it's easier for these cars to break down and need service," Thomas said.
On a positive note, Thomas said the city recently approved the hiring of five car technicians, less than they need but a step in the right direction. Still, he said he's concerned that the situation could worse before they get better.
"I know that we're in a hiring process right now so I'm hopeful we're able to hire some mechanics and start getting those cars back out on the street," Thomas said.
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