Jan 27, 2022 - News

Omicron sweeps through Denver's public safety agencies

Illustration of a police badge with a covid cell in the middle.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Omicron is wreaking havoc on Denver's public safety agencies.

Why it matters: Those on the frontlines have once again been hit by the pandemic at a time when violent crime is soaring and Denver's safety departments are already understaffed.

By the numbers: New data from Denver's public safety department, obtained by Axios, shows 15%, or 489 sworn employees across the police, sheriff and fire departments, have tested positive for COVID-19 since Jan. 1.

  • Nearly 50 employees remain off-duty with positive cases, agency spokesperson Andrea Webber tells Axios.
  • Of note: Public safety officials initially denied Axios Denver's data request "due to safety reasons … which could potentially compromise officer safety and the Department's ability to address public safety situations," but relented when pressed.

What they're saying: The Denver Police Department "had a huge spike" roughly three weeks ago that likely marked the agency's "peak," chief Paul Pazen said last week at a task force meeting focused on rethinking public safety.

  • "We've been able to work our way through that challenge, [but] it's by no means over," he added.
  • Tori Burket, Denver's epidemiologist and disease prevention manager, tells Axios the city is not seeing any "alarming" outbreaks within its ranks, but acknowledged that "more public facing roles have higher rates" of infection.

State of play: The city has proactive plans to mitigate "any major staffing impacts," Webber tells Axios, but "essential and critical functions and services are not being impacted" for now.

  • Safety officials are monitoring COVID case trends "daily … to best plan for the reallocation of resources on an as-needed basis," she says.

Between the lines: The majority of city employees are inoculated against COVID-19, thanks to Mayor Michael Hancock's vaccine mandate, though more than 600 workers have received vaccine exemptions.

  • Employees in the sheriff and police departments initially lagged in compliance, but most eventually fell in line.
  • However, at least two officers and one deputy have been fired over the mandate as of early November, 9News reports.

The big picture: COVID-19 is the leading cause of death for police officers nationwide even though members of law enforcement were among the first to be eligible for the vaccine, CNN reports, citing data from the Officer Down Memorial Page.

  • Although no Denver police officers have lost their lives to COVID, at least two of the city's sheriff's deputies have died from the disease.
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