AURORA, Colo. -- The Aurora Police Department is losing officers at a rapid rate, which has left the city with no choice but to spend thousands of dollars on overtime to keep enough cops on the street.
“It’s extremely concerning,” said Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson. “If it’s a life-or-death call, we are on our way. And if it's a property crime, it's going to probably wait.”
Wilson acknowledges the problem and said the department is doing its best to prioritize calls. Since January 2020, the department has lost 176 officers.
“Obviously, as a leader I have to reflect and say, ‘is there something I can do better?’” she said.
Fewer officers mean more are being asked to work overtime to make up for the staffing shortage.
Internal records obtained by Denver7 Investigates show Aurora officers logged 719 hours of overtime from late June to the end of July 2021.
“The overtime is a huge concern,” said Marc Sears, head of the Aurora police union.
Sears said while the overtime is keeping cops on the street, there’s another less visible cost.
“They’re getting burnt out and they’re not getting the support that they need,” he said.
Email records show internal conversations that detail how dire the shortage has become.
District One’s watch commander sent an email in June which said: “3 below critical staffing needs. Minimum staffing a fantasy (sic).”
“I can’t remember the last time I didn’t see, on a daily basis, a request for overtime,” Sears said.
Denver7 shared the emails with Aurora Mayor Pro Tem Francoise Bergan.
“Minimum staffing is fantasy. Wow,” she said in response.
Bergan said she feels for the officers and is frustrated.
“Public safety is the No. 1 priority and enough is enough,” she said.
Another email from July 2021 essentially begged officers to work overtime.
It said: “I am not getting any responses for swings today. I am 6 under minimum and 3 under critical … You guys have any extra bodies?”
“The call wait for individuals calling is longer than I’d like, longer than I think city management or council or anyone in this community would like,” Wilson said.
Wilson said when the department can’t meet minimum staffing, the department calls in its Emergency Response Team, but those are only for major calls involving violent crimes or missing persons.
“We’re doing the very best we can,” she said.
“We fight what they fear,” Sears said. “And if you want to be able to sleep well at night and not have to worry about your family being victimized, you better start caring about the police department.”
Wilson said the department is paying for the additional overtime with savings from open officer positions. APD is also working to hire more officers, but she said it takes more than a year for new cops to work the streets alone. New recruits must go through both the academy and training.
Wilson blamed the rapid number of officers leaving on the shrinking support for police, changes in state law, and the battle to reform a department that an investigation by the Colorado Department of State found has routinely violated state and federal laws through use of excessive force and racially biased policing and after several high-profile cases that shed officers in a negative light because of their actions.
The chief said she does not expect the daily emails requesting overtime to slow down, but Wilson does not support mandatory overtime.
And Aurora isn’t alone. The Denver Sheriff Department (DSD) has lost 187 deputies since 2020 as of Sept. 10.
DSD is mandating overtime and deputies can face discipline if they don’t work it.
The sheriff department said as of Tuesday no Denver deputies have been disciplined for refusing to work overtime, but two are currently going through the discipline process.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said it has lost a little over 100 deputies since 2020. It is also mandating overtime for jail employees.
The Denver Police Department confirmed it has lost 164 officers since 2020. It lost 78 officers in 2020 and 86 as of July 2021. DPD is not mandating overtime.
In comparison, Lakewood Police have lost far fewer officers than other agencies. It said 55 officers have left the force since 2020 and it is also not mandating overtime.