DENVER — It was a day of celebrations in a year with not a lot to celebrate for the Denver Sheriff Department.
Under a blistering sun outside the Sheriff Department's training center in northeast Denver, 22 men and women were sworn in as sheriff's deputies following 16 weeks of training. And rarely, if ever, in the department's history has it needed a new group of deputies more than it does right now.
"We are part of a nationwide challenge, a crisis right now. We need help," said Chief Sonya Gillespie, who heads the Sheriff Department's administrative division.
The crisis Gillespie is referring to is a severe staffing shortage. Even with the 22 deputies added Friday, the department will have 186, or 21%, fewer deputies than budgeted.
The department said COVID-19 is largely to blame. A significant number of deputies left the department since the pandemic began. Recruiting new deputies has been difficult, as well. The COVID-related deaths of two deputies clearly didn't help.
"It's been difficult for people to decide to make a new career in a high-contact field, so to speak," Gillespie said.
Gillespie said she's encouraged that Friday's graduating class was the largest they've had since the pandemic began. Still, she acknowledges they've got a long way to go.
"Now more than ever it's time to put our heads together and find ways to get through these challenges together," Gillespie said.
There is currently a class of eight recruits in the Sheriff Department's academy. Another nine start next week, and the department is now accepting applicants for a class that will start in November.
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