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$53k a day in overtime for Denver Sheriff Dept. amid staffing crisis

The Denver Police Department is on track to rack up more than last year's $10.8 million overtime bill for their officers.

DENVER — When police and sheriff's departments can't hire enough officers to fill all their shifts, taxpayers foot the bill.

In the first half of this year, the Denver Sheriff Department and Denver Police Department (DPD) spent nearly $18,000 in taxpayer dollars on overtime pay for officers. 

The sheriff's department appears on track to smash last year's record $16.4 million spent on overtime. DPD similarly spent more on overtime in the first seven months of 2022 than it did during the same period of 2021. 

"We’re losing bodies faster than we fill seats in the academy," said DPD Sgt. and Police Protective Association board member Bryan O'Neil. "We’re losing a lot of people so those staffing pinches are becoming more pronounced."

The police department needs 168 additional sworn officers to reach its authorized strength of 1,596. The sheriff's office is down 230 sworn staff members — about 30% of its budget. 

O'Neill said every day he sees a shift down multiple officers in his division and mandatory overtime is becoming more and more common as staffing shrinks and call volumes grow. 

"As a taxpayer, I don't want to see my dollars spent on overtime when they don't need to be," O'Neill said. "But on the flip side, especially when it comes to public safety, if I pick up the phone and call 911, I want somebody to be there."

Through July 2022, DPD paid out $8,202,614 in overtime. Last year, it spent $10,825,383 total. For the first six months of the year, the sheriff's office spent $9,776,822 on overtime — which equaled about $53 thousand dollars a day.

Credit: KUSA
Credit: KUSA

Beyond the price tag to taxpayers, the unexpected additional hours can exhaust officers, O'Neill said. "It takes a toll, emotionally and physically," he said. 

Departments are trying to hire backups. DPD said it offers 10 hours of PTO to officers who refer recruits who graduate from the academy. 

"The department is working hard to recruit in an effort to build staffing levels up. These efforts include working with the DHRCP (Denver Agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships) and hosting community academies to help recruit," a spokesperson said in a statement.

This week, the Denver City Council authorized $7,000 bonuses for Denver Sheriff's deputies in an effort to keep them on the force. "We hope the retention bonus helps us retain the great women and men who make up the Denver Sheriff Department. We are actively recruiting people from the community who want a career in public service and look forward to rehiring those who have recently left," Denver Sheriff Elias Diggins said. 

If the programs to recruit and retain officers don't help, it means officers like O'Neill will keep working overtime. "It’s happening more and more as time goes on," he said. 

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