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In Denver jails, assaults on staff members are on the rise

There already have been 125 assaults so far this year, which is almost the same number as in all of 2020.

DENVER — Denver's two jails are filled to capacity and, with that, has come many challenges – among them, an increase in assaults on staff members, said Denver Sheriff Elias Diggins.

With four months left in the year, there already have been 125 assaults by inmates on staff members at Denver's jails in 2022. That's already the same number as in all of 2020 and almost as many as all of last year.

"If we have one assault, I'm concerned," Diggins said.

Staff members are concerned, as well. Many said the increase in assaults is the direct result of a significant staffing shortage. The department is down about 300 deputies, more than 30% off its authorized force of 875.

While Diggins acknowledged that the staffing shortage is a major problem, he said he doesn't believe it's largely responsible for the increase in assaults.

Instead, he said the increase has more to do with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on society, in general.

"Violence is on an increase across the nation," Diggins said. "The jail is not immune to the effects that people have had throughout the pandemic ... whether they're in the community or in custody."

In response to the increase in violence and the staffing shortage, Diggins requires all deputies to work a minimum of six hours per week of overtime.

When combined with new programs aimed at reducing tension and anger among inmates, Diggins said he's optimistic that the number of assaults will begin to decline over the next few months.

"We don't tolerate any act of aggression and, hopefully, the things we are doing proactively will help to decrease that," Diggins said. 

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