Excessive overtime costs are still an issue at Denver jails, costing taxpayers millions

Record number of deputies leaving the department
Posted at 6:29 PM, Jan 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-23 20:51:51-05

DENVER -- Overtime costs continue to grow at the Denver Sheriff's Department as staff retention rates plummet.

Denver7 first reported on skyrocketing overtime costs last year, and the latest figures show the agency is still relying on overtime to run the city's two jails.

DSD shelled out $11,443,262 in overtime to deputies for 236,224 hours in the last ten months of 2017, according to data provided by the Denver Department of Safety.

Daelene Mix, a spokeswoman for the department, said updated figures through the end of 2017 wouldn't be available until February when the city's fiscal year is closed.

But the city is on track to spend nearly as much in overtime in 2017 as it did the year before when the department paid out a record $13,983,488 for 283,750 overtime hours.

The department insists it is under budget for wages and staffing, and while it has not been finalized, Mix said DSD is forecasted to come in approximately $500,000 below budgeted personnel expenses.

"In this industry overtime is always going to be required. We have to man certain posts unlike anybody else, where they can shut something down," Denver Sheriff Patrick Firman said.

Staff retention down, more deputies leaving

The number of deputies leaving the department also reached record levels in 2017, with 111 uniformed officers leaving employment. 86 deputies left the department in 2016, 75 the year prior, and 63 left in 2014, according to data provided by the city.

The agency said 24 of the 111 deputies who left employment in 2017 were retiring, but the sheriff acknowledged staff retention is an issue they're working to curb.

"We want to make sure that once our staff are here that we're giving them the resources to stay," Firman explained.

The sheriff pointed to new wellness programs, including yoga, the department is now offering to staff

"Very popular with the staff to help them through the very difficult task of dealing with this population," he said.

Denver deputies working too many hours in a high-stress job is not only costly to taxpayers; corrections experts warn it creates a dangerous environment -- something yoga alone can't fix.

"Any violence, I would prefer not to have any violence," Firman said.

Deputies working too many overtime hours in a week

Another issue Denver7 uncovered that raises even more issues about safety involves how many hours a week in overtime deputies are working.

Emails between city staff within the sheriff's department showed there were at least 72 weeks last year where deputies worked over the 32-hour a week overtime limit.

It's a violation of department policy, and shows some deputies are working enough overtime hours to call it a second part-time job.

Mix, the sheriff's department spokesperson, said in response the agency plans to update a department policy on OT to raise the level of monitoring and strengthen expectations for supervisors and staff in order to make sure deputies don't work beyond the threshold.

Sheriff Firman also said the agency plans to hire 120 new deputies this year. Latest data from the department shows 698 uniformed officers are on staff, and there are 14 vacancies.