Apr 10, 2024 - News

Mayor Mike Johnston’s police goal faces recruiting challenges

Photo illustration of a Denver Police cruiser with lines radiating from it.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios; Photo: Steve Nehf/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Mayor Mike Johnston's goal to add 167 new Denver police officers this year faces serious hurdles.

Why it matters: The additional officers are connected to managing homelessness — Johnston's top priority — since last year he said removing encampments allows police to redirect attention to more serious crimes.

The latest: While the mayor last week welcomed 36 new recruits to Denver's first 2024 class, it's a fraction of the total number he wants to add to Colorado's largest police department.

  • Denver budgeted $8.2 million to add new officers, which includes two more recruiting classes this year, and potentially even a fourth, the mayor's spokesperson Jose Salas tells us in a statement.

What they're saying: "Obviously, we've got a lot of work to do," police chief Ron Thomas tells us.

  • "Our ultimate goal is to get to full staffing, and we know that's an ambitious goal," Salas said.

By the numbers: The police department sits at 92% authorized strength (the number of officers budgeted for) with 1,515 as of March 22.

  • That includes 62 recruits from two classes that started last year, a number Thomas says tracks "consistently" with recent years.

Between the lines: The law enforcement agency typically has three recruit classes a year, but to meet the mayor's goal, it's aiming to make them larger in 2024, with 55 recruits per class, Denver police spokesperson Doug Schepman tells us.

The intrigue: Thomas characterized the work completed by the Civil Service Commission, which is responsible for testing candidates, as a "challenge" to recruiting more cops.

  • The timeline, from applying to receiving a job offer, takes several months. Even the city's own materials warn about a "lengthy and extensive process" filled with multiple steps.
  • During this time, Thomas — who wants to hire more officers of color — says he's "often" found applicants finding other jobs.

The other side: Civil Services Commission executive director Niecy Murray tells us criticism about its process being lengthy is "salacious." She points to another issue: "We really struggle to get quality applicants."

  • The commission has extended deadlines for applicants to complete requirements like a medical or a polygraph test, while some people took as little as 25 days to be offered a job.
  • Last year, fees were waived for a behavioral health assessment test DPD requires for its applicants, but that didn't seem to make a difference.
  • Murray says she's unsure why people are reluctant to take this test — though she says it is not required by all police departments across the country.

The bottom line: Thomas says overall, his department's recruitment efforts are improving, adding the agency is pushing recruitment efforts over social media and ensuring officers participate in local community events.

  • More people are now interested in becoming officers, he says, and the recruiting challenges police faced after George Floyd's murder in May 2020 largely passed.

What's next: The 36-member recruiting class expects to graduate in October.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the behavioral health assessment is not required by all police departments.

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