Local Police Battling Serious Law Officer Shortages

Teller Sheriff Cites Low Pay as Major Culprit

Trevor Phipps

In the last several years, law enforcement agencies across the nation have experienced  an officer shortage crisis, and have struggled to attract or retain sufficient staff to properly protect and serve their communities.

In Teller County, the problem has hit home in a major way with the shortage of trained law enforcement officers becoming a major issue,  leading to limited police presence in most of the region.

Over the summer, every law enforcement agency in Teller County has upped their recruitment efforts. Deputies representing the Teller County Sheriff’s Office have been seen with tables set up at grocery stores at just about every local event.

According to Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell, the problems have increased the last several years as crime in the county has exploded to the highest level ever. He said that even though the county has less than 30,000 residents, the county experiences another 5,000 to 10,000 people per day recreating within the county.

“Our crime isn’t as localized as it used to be,” Mikesell said. “A lot of our crime is coming from Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and the Denver area because they are coming through the county and recreating. We are experiencing so much crime coming from other areas that are affecting our residents. So, where we were as a sheriff’s office 20 years ago, just doesn’t work anymore. We just don’t have the officers.”

The sheriff said that lately the office has been bombarded by calls regarding traffic issues in just about every subdivision within the county. But the sheriff’s office does not have enough officers to handle these complaints at all.

He said that at any given time the sheriff’s office only has about two to three patrol deputies on duty. With the huge increase in calls the sheriff’s office receives, coupled with requests to assist local city police departments, the agency does not have enough officers to control traffic in a  500-plus square mile county, with a number of subdivisions not getting served.

And this officer shortage problem doesn’t take into account a barrage of more serious crimes, which further puts a strain on law enforcement time. The sheriff stressed the fact that the sheriff’s office has dealt with two homicides, just this year alone. “If you only have two or three officers on duty, with the types of calls these days, you can’t just send one officer anymore,” Mikesell explained. “And with those types of calls an officer now is tied up for two or three hours due to state legislation that causes us to take longer to do something.”

To combat this growing crisis, the sheriff said that he is now working with the Teller County commissioners to increase the number of patrol officers his agency can employ. “We are scheduled for 24 patrol officers and that’s working seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” the sheriff continued. “The problem is we are eight officers short and it’s not because we lost anybody, it’s because we are not getting applications. Because as the state goes, we are one of the lowest-paid agencies in the state. I can’t hire people from other agencies or people we don’t have to train because we don’t pay them enough.”

Moreover, he cited a low amount of trained officers available in the state. And with Teller County sitting close to the Front Range, where law enforcement agents can make more, it is especially tough to recruit new officers due to Teller not having competitive wages.

County Commissioners Launch Salary Study for All County Employees

In a statement submitted by the Teller County commissioners, the board recognizes the issue of attracting and retaining employees for the sheriff’s department. They emphasized the fact that the commissioners have made major moves to assist the sheriff’s office, including raising money for a new office, establishing the largest salary increase in county history and making other much-needed contributions.

The commissioners said that the labor issue has been driven by the market, and it has affected county workers all across the board. The commissioners have recently redefined what the term “First Responder” means to include Road and Bridge employees and Department of Human Services (DHS) employees.

The commissioners say this issue is under serious review.

“That is why your (county) commissioners authorized an independent, market-based salary study at the beginning of the 2024 budget cycle so that we can make informed decisions about compensation, benefits and work environment of the employees that provide the services that our residents expect for their hard-earned tax dollars,” noted the commissioners in an official statement. “We have met with the County Administrator, Sheriff and Department Directors on multiple occasions to better understand all their challenges in hiring and retention.”

Local Police Departments Hit Hard by Staffing Issues

According to Woodland Park Police Chief Chris Deisler and Cripple Creek Police Chief Bud Bright, both agencies are also experiencing big officer shortages. “I will tell you that I have seen the same thing between my last police department in Florida as I have here,” WP Chief Deisler said. “Most every agency is having recruiting and retention issues.”

Deisler said that he started noticing the decline in people wanting to become police officers about 15 years ago. Buthe said that there is no specific reason for this trend, as the employee shortage varies from agency to agency.

Recently, both the Woodland Park and Cripple Creek police departments have been offering a program where they can pay someone to go to police academy. The state has also been working on expanding more opportunities for people to become trained as police officers.

To further add to the problem, Bright said that the department has been having trouble finding dispatch officers as well as patrol officers. In fact, starting in June, the Teller County Sheriff’s Office has been providing the dispatch services for the city of Cripple Creek during night-time hours.