Seven of my deputies have been victims of attempted murder. Within 28 days. Three of these deputies exchanged gunfire with a violent felon, three others were fired upon with a high-powered rifle, and one was nearly stabbed. While I think these past few weeks are an anomaly, I know violent crime has increased over the past two years.
In fact, all crime has increased in Jefferson County since the beginning of 2020 due to the following factors:
• A 2020 budget cut reduced the Sheriff’s Office budget by $6.5 million, resulting in 40 fewer detention employees and the closing of one floor of the jail. Jail capacity was reduced from 1,392 to 1,148 by January 2020, and some inmates had to be released early.
• A worldwide pandemic beginning in the spring of 2020 forced us to reduce jail population even further, to accommodate all public health restrictions, including social distancing, isolation and quarantine requirements. When the pandemic was at its worst during 2020, jail capacity was at its lowest: 658. In addition to releasing inmates early, we also had to implement enhanced arrest standards, to limit the number of new bookings.
• A nationwide narrative to defund the police stemmed from the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. This rhetoric from anti-law enforcement supporters, combined with demonstrations and riots, led to a knee-jerk reaction by Colorado state legislators to quickly adopt legislation that universally removed important protections for good officers and deputies. The lack of support from state and federal lawmakers has contributed to a national retention and recruiting crisis for law enforcement agencies. We cannot hire good, qualified deputies quickly enough to meet increasing vacancy demands.
It stands to reason that if criminals are not in our jail, they are on our streets. More criminals on our streets, combined with fewer law enforcement, leads to increased crime.
This should come as no surprise. We cannot reduce the jail population, arrest fewer people, lose more deputies, and pass harmful legislation without serious risk to the public’s safety, and to that of our employees. Since 2019, crime has increased by more than 15% countywide. In the same timeframe, inmate-on-staff assaults in the county jail have tripled, despite a 35% decrease in jail population. And, in the span of 28 days, seven patrol deputies were victims of deadly force. Right now, right here in Jefferson County, we are experiencing a perfect storm that is threatening your safety and ours.
But there is a solution. At least for the short term.
In November 2020, in response to a collaborative letter from all local mayors imploring the need for more jail space at that time, the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) approved $7.5 million in CARES Act funding to be earmarked for the Sheriff’s Office. The funding was to be used as follows: $3.75 million each in 2021 and 2022, for the re-hiring of 40 detention positions to fully reopen the jail. The money was to be appropriated at the end of each year, only if the JCSO could not cover the entirety of its total expenditures in either year as we worked to fill the positions.
In 2021, due to recruiting challenges, the JCSO did not utilize the $3.75 million of CARES Act funding. Although we exceeded the detention staffing budget by almost $1 million, we were able to cover this overage through vacancy savings realized from both retention and recruitment challenges. These same challenges are expected to continue impacting our ability to rehire all 40 detention positions by the end of this year. Therefore, we have requested the BCC re-assign the 2021 earmark of $3.75 million to 2023, allowing us an additional year to meet our goal to fully reopen the jail and house those criminals who have been victimizing our communities.
County staff, however, does not support my recommendation to carry over the unspent earmark. In fact, they advise against using any federal money to address the current staffing issues in our jail. The County received over $213 million in combined CARES Act and ARPA funding. From this, the Sheriff’s Office has been allocated $260,000; the lowest amount of any county department. If the BCC decides not to re-assign the previously earmarked money and if no additional portion of the remaining recovery funding will be used to support the JCSO’s mission to protect, serve, and enforce in the face of today’s perfect storm of increased violent crime, I ask the question “Where will the money go?”
On April 7, three of my deputies were forced to exchange gunfire with an armed felon. On April 9, under cover of darkness, three other deputies were pinned by a gunman firing at them with a high-powered rifle. And on May 5, another deputy was attacked by a man intent on stabbing him with an 11” knife. For at least a moment, each of these deputies were faced with “What if?” A little later, each of their family members were faced with the same thought: what if my husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter had paid the ultimate sacrifice? Then together – these deputies and their families – had to decide whether it is worth continuing their career to protect and serve people they do not even know. Some may still be deciding.
I know these deputies – who are entrusted to make split-second, life-saving decisions – will make the right choice for themselves and their families. I only hope the County will make the right choice too, for you and your family.