Denver city councilmembers want to allow noncitizens to serve as police officers, firefighters

City council members are considering changing the city's charter to allow noncitizens to be hired as police officers and firefighters. The proposal would require voter approval.
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Posted at 5:50 PM, Feb 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-19 23:53:31-05

DENVER — Should noncitizens be able to serve as Denver police officers and firefighters? Some Denver City Council members want to change the city's charter to make it possible.

Right now, Denver’s city charter requires anyone applying to become a police officer or firefighter to be a U.S. citizen. Denver City Council President Jamie Torres, who represents District 3, says that limits the pool of applicants.

"We know that one of the things that both departments have been struggling with is really getting great qualified applicants through the door,” said Torres.

Torres and Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval are developing a proposal that, if approved by voters, would change the city charter, allowing applicants without U.S. citizenship to serve as police officers and firefighters. Torres said this would include Dreamers or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, who were brought to the U.S. as children.

“What I think this means for Dreamers, for DACA recipients, for legal permanent residents, is they get a chance at a really important, meaningful job path,” said Torres.

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Torres said applicants would still have to meet other qualifications and go through the same process as everyone else to be hired. She said newly arrived migrants would not be eligible to be hired as police officers or firefighters in Denver.

"The newest arrival immigrants don't even have work authorization right now,” said Torres. “They wouldn't qualify under the language requirement. You have to be fluent in English in addition to what other languages you may come to the table with.”

Torres said they would also have to possess a high school diploma or GED and pass a series of background checks to be hired. Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas said he supports allowing noncitizens to serve as police officers.

“Since my appointment as Chief, I have led efforts to ensure our police department reflects the diversity of our city. However, our neighbors who are non-citizens with work authorization, including those who fall under the federal DACA program, are currently excluded from serving their community,” Thomas said in a letter to the city council.

Denver Fire Chief Desmond Fulton, who also supports the charter change, said it will “strengthen” his department’s relationships with residents.

“I look forward to welcoming the experiences and unique talents of all of those who call Denver home into our department. These individuals will undoubtedly enhance the quality and effectiveness of our agency,” said Fulton.

The Denver Latino Commission said the charter change proposal “aligns with our commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and community-oriented policing and safety in our city.”

The council members said they plan on meeting with the police union and others to get their feedback.

Noncitizens can already serve in the Denver Sheriff's Department because of a 2016 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Other local departments such as Aurora and Boulder also allow permanent legal residents to serve as police officers.

Last year, Colorado passed House Bill 23-1143, which was sponsored by a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers. It allows DACA recipients to carry weapons if they're hired by a local police department.

"This is another way that we can ensure that people who are already well-trained are able to use their skills to help keep our fellow Coloradans safe,” Governor Jared Polis said at a bill-signing ceremony.

Whether noncitizens serve as Denver police officers and firefighters would ultimately depend on voters.

“Anytime we change the charter, it's got to go before the voters,” said Torres. “So it'll be a vote of the people to determine whether or not this changes."

If it passes the council, the soonest it could appear on the ballot is in November. Torres and Sandoval are still working on their proposal.

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