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Posted on November 6, 2020 at 1:33 PM by Renie Dugwyler
This has been a very challenging year that I think is aptly depicted by a truck rollover accident that occurred during the morning rush hour on Thursday, August 27. A semi rolled on the ramp from I-70 West to C470, spilling its contents on the roadway and the surrounding landscape. Unfortunately, its contents were manure. Specifically, chicken coop .
This year, we have experienced similar unpleasantness in the form of COVID-19, civil unrest, and the most contentious election of my lifetime. Any one of these would take a toll on an individual, community, and a country, but combined, they have caused unprecedented tensions, quick tempers and unrivaled divisions. As we all struggle to stay healthy, adapt to change, and keep the peace, the Sheriff’s Office has also had to take some undesirable measures to maintain a safe environment for our inmates and employees in the jail.
Since this time last year, jail capacity has been reduced from 1392 beds to 760 beds currently. In January, a multi-million dollar budget cut required us to significantly reduce detention staff and close one floor of the jail, among many other cost saving measures. This reduced the jail’s operational capacity to 1148 beds at the beginning of the year. Then in March COVID hit and we followed CDC and public health guidance to quickly and drastically reduce the jail population to fewer than 600 inmates, in an effort to protect them and our employees from exposure to the potentially fatal disease.
To attain this lower inmate population, we implemented early release protocols, worked with the District Attorney’s Office and the judiciary to adjust bonds and review sentences, and enacted enhanced arrest standards that restrict offenders we book into the jail to certain types of crimes. I have worked my entire career to put criminals behind bars so it was very difficult to have to make decisions regarding which criminals to put behind bars.
As the sheriff, I am responsible for management of the jail, but because the detention facility is a shared resource for multiple stakeholders, I sought feedback from many residents, citizen groups, Jefferson County police chiefs, the Board of County Commissioners and other local leaders when developing the enhanced arrest standards. These standards, implemented on March 31st due to COVID, limited jail bookings to Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 Felonies, as well as any crime for which the Victims’ Rights Act applies and certain crimes with other specified extenuating circumstances. On September 2nd, we expanded our jail capacity to 760 beds and I amended the arrest standards to include Class 4 Felonies.
In addition to the detention facility, the Sheriff’s Office is also responsible for law enforcement services for 200,000 residents in unincorporated Jefferson County. Over recent months, we have noticed an increase in certain types of crime that may not meet the current arrest standards, namely motor vehicle trespasses and motor vehicle theft. These common crimes have been a focus of ours since I became sheriff and continue to be a high priority for patrol deputies as well as local law enforcement agencies. On November 3, I met with Jefferson County police chiefs to discuss the enhanced arrest standards and how we can ensure criminal activity is still being appropriately deterred and disrupted while jail capacity remains limited. Toward that end, we are initiating a comprehensive countywide crime trend analysis to determine how the arrest standards may be impacting crime rates in our communities.
In addition, I am in the process of presenting two options to the Board of County Commissioners that would provide additional space in the jail for the duration of COVID. The first option would utilize CARES Act funding, in the form of a temporary two year grant, to rehire detention positions and reopen the closed floor of the jail. This would allow us to expand our current capacity by 216 beds until the pandemic is eradicated. The second option would be to pursue opportunities to house our inmates at another county jail elsewhere in the state, at an estimated cost of $90 per inmate per day. Either of these options offers the potential to further relax enhanced arrest standards and allow us to accept lower level felony offenders into the jail. In the meantime, the current arrest standards are still necessary to protect inmates and detention employees from contracting COVID-19.
The county jail is a congregate housing facility and as such is at higher risk for an outbreak. Since the pandemic began, we have had 67 inmates and 17 detention employees test positive. Currently, one inmate and five detention employees are positive, with several additional employees exhibiting symptoms and awaiting test results. Despite our best efforts to prevent the spread of COVID in the detention facility, the number of current positive cases could mean the jail will revert to outbreak status again, only two months after our first outbreak was officially resolved at the end of August.
Which brings me full circle to the August 27th truck rollover and its authentic portrayal of 2020. We may not be able to celebrate Thanksgiving the way we want or normally would, but we can still be thankful this stinky year is coming to an end, and maybe by then the election will be over too! In Colorado, 85% of registered voters set a new record for voter turnout during this presidential election, and I encourage your continued engagement of important issues. In 2021, we anticipate the state legislature will be introducing bills regarding police reform, thereby offering residents an opportunity to share your opinion with state representatives. Your voice matters and I encourage you to continue to use it.
Jeff Shrader, Sheriff
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office
Jeff Shrader, Sheriff
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office