Police want you: Yampa Valley police departments hiring officers
Those who aspire to being a police officer might not have any problems finding a job in Craig and the Yampa Valley.
Following the recent departure of 20-year police veteran Brian Soper and at least three other officers during the past several years, the Craig Police Department currently has at least two openings for police officers.
But Craig isn’t the only one hiring the next generation of Western Slope law enforcement officers.
“It’s not just the Craig Police Department,” said CPD Captain Bill Leonard, a veteran of almost 40 years on Craig’s police force. “When it comes to law enforcement jobs in general, you can contact any of the law enforcement agencies, not only within the Yampa Valley, but within Colorado, within the nation. They will tell you the same thing. There’s not people stepping up to take this job. They only way they are able to find people is they are upping salaries, upping benefits. Some agencies are offering sign-on bonuses just to get somebody hired. Its very competitive.”
According to an August report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of full-time officers has fallen by more than 20,000 since 2013, while the average number of full-time officers per 1,000 residents decreased from 2.42 in 1997 to 2.17 by 2016.
Steamboat Springs officials say they’re looking to recruit a candidate for their police academy who’s service-minded and willing to learn.
“Whether you’re a young adult or someone who already has some experience, if you feel the tug, the pull of serving in a teamwork environment and accomplishing a mission that truly serves your community, then you are likely a fit for law enforcement, and I would encourage you to explore that,” said Annette Dopplick, Steamboat Springs Police Department’s operations commander, who spent some 15 years on ski patrol before going into law enforcement.
“You may not know that you’d be a good fit for law enforcement,” Dopplick said. “Some of our finest officers and civilian employees were individuals who didn’t originally consider a career in public safety.”
In an email, the Grand Junction Police Department said it is also looking to hire lots of cops.
“We currently have numerous patrol officer positions to fill,” said Heidi Davidson, police information coordinator at GJPD. “We have roughly 113 officers deployed and are budgeted for 120; that number goes up to 124 in July. We are also hiring dispatchers for the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center.”
Davidson said a culture of mistrust toward police, complicated by high profile officer-involved shooting incidents, may be contributing to a lack of officer applications.
“Agencies across the country are struggling to recruit officers …” Davidson said. “It’s not isolated to one area or size of agency. High-profile incidents throughout the country over the past few years that have been heavily covered in the media could have an effect; either fostering a distrust for law enforcement or showing that it’s a highly scrutinized position, which could turn some away from the profession.”
Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume said successful police officers in the Yampa Valley often come for the quality of life offered on Colorado’s Western Slope.
“There has to be some other draw for them, whether it’s the recreation, the area, the hunting, the things a rural life experience provides,” Hume said.
Dopplick said Steamboat recently hired such a police officer.
“One of our most recent hires — a bilingual officer — came to us from Lakewood, which is one of the highest-paid departments in the state — the highest-paying by ordinance, actually,” Dopplick said. “The reason for that officer’s selection of Steamboat was the quality of life and wanting to be engaged in the community, wanting to give his service in a way that was meaningful.”
Hayden Police Chief Greg Tuliszewski recently filled his last open police officer position after competing with Craig and other cities in the area. He said it’s easier for officers to make a difference working in the small mountain communities that dot the Yampa Valley, compared to larger cities, such as Denver.
“We are able to make more of a difference,” Tuliszewski said. “You get to know who your community is.”
Sgt. Brian Soper, who left CPD to be a coal miner after 20 years with the department, said hiring younger officers isn’t always the solution to building and keeping an experienced force.
“If you hire a young person with really no ties or family in the community, how long are they gonna stay?” Soper asked. “That’s always a problem. What’s going to bind them to the community?”
Leonard said the Craig department was working with several applicants to fill open officer positions, but no longer.
“We had three or four applicants who have all withdrawn at this point or found other places to go,” Leonard said. “So, we’re starting over again. It’s a lengthy process, a hard process.”
Craig is having trouble competing with smaller police departments, according to Leonard.
“I had an applicant that I was really working towards hiring, a young man just coming out of the military,” Leonard said. “Basically, a neighboring police department hired him before we could, and I found out that this neighboring police department — a six-person police department — now pays more than the Craig Police Department for starting pay. That’s because they cannot find people to hire, so they ended up raising their salaries. So now, we’re competing as an agency.”
There are many Yampa Valley residents who may be interested in serving their community as a police officer, so Dopplick said they need only reach out to their local police departments for a ride-along or a possible tour.
“I think there are plenty of service-hearted individuals out there who haven’t explored law enforcement,” Dopplick said. “What’s it like to be a police officer? We’d be happy to show you around and talk about it.”
Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 of cthorp@CraigDailyPress.com.