Budget challenges and smaller salaries both factors in CSPD officer shortage

COLORADO SPRINGS, Co. - It's not the possibility of another active shooter scenario or the status of community relations following high profile officer shootings around the country that Colorado Springs police chief Pete Carey loses the most sleep over.

It's having enough officers on the streets.

"What keeps me up at night is staffing.  Absolutely," he said.

Carey says the staffing shortage first arose in 2010, when economic times were tough for the city.

"Because of budgets and things like that, we didn't have probably 1 or 2 academy classes, so we weren't hiring," he explained.

That shortage was compounded by an increasing number of officers taking higher paying positions elsewhere or switching careers entirely.

"For the last 3 to 4 years, we were losing about 2 or 2.5 officers a month.  As it stands right now, because of things going on across the country and policing in general, we are losing well over 4 officers a month," he said.

Those leaving include both new recruits and seasoned veterans.

Officer A. Flores, who helps to train young officers after they graduate the academy, says it's tough to lose experienced officers.

"Your first 5 years, you're still learning, so when you lose people from 5 on to the other departments, you're losing a lot of experience," he said.

The starting salary for new officers in the Colorado Springs Police Department is $50,000.

It is among the lowest in the region.

We found only one city of significant size, Pueblo, that pays less.

New officers in Pueblo make about $43,489 per year.

New officers in Denver make $51,779, although DPD occasionally offers a signing bonus as well.
New officers in Aurora are paid $52,043.
New officers in Boulder are paid $59,287.

Fort Collins and El Paso County both pay new recruits just over $61,000, while the Colorado State Patrol pays new troopers nearly $74,000 in their first year.

CSPD officers here have noticed the dispairity.

"Nobody expects to be rich," says Flores, "but we're like everybody else, we have bills to pay.  Pay is a big thing, just to get more people here."

The fact that CSPD has not offered more is now apparent in the level of staffing and response times.

The average response time to the most critical "Priority 1" calls nearly hit 14 minutes earlier this year, and it can take officers several hours to respond to non-critical calls.

According to 2015 data from the FBI's uniform crime report, Colorado Springs had 14.0 officers per 10,000 people.

Denver had 21.5 per 10,000.

Aurora had 18.9 per 10,000.

Pueblo had 17.6 per 10,000.

Boulder had 16.6 per 10,000.

Only Fort Collins had fewer officer per 10,000 at 13.2.

The average number of officers for cities with a population between 200,000 and 500,000 is 18.6.

Once again, officers here have taken notice of the dispairity.

"We're way below what we should be for a city this size," said Flores.

According to Chief Carey, the gold standard nationally for Priority 1 call response is 8 minutes.

He believes another 50-100 officers would put that within reach.

"If I get some support from city council and Mayor Suthers to hire another 50-100 police officers, I think that would get us closer and closer to the 8-minute mark."

But salaries are only part of the cost of hiring new officers.

Carey says the actual cost per officer per year is around $100,000 when you add the cost of benefits, equipment, a vehicle, gas, and more.

That means the bill for hiring 50-100 new officers would run between 5 and 10 million dollars per year.



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