Contrary to what you might think by reading my previous articles about law enforcement in Colorado, I really hate writing about shitty police work. Having worked for a number of different hospitals over the years that hired former police officers for security—and hearing some of their horror stories that don’t make the headlines—I’ve been afforded a wealth of perspective. And if there is one thing I’ve learned from both my personal and professional research on the matter it’s this: good officers being constantly overworked without proper support has led to an innumerable amount of fuck-ups. Mistakes that can often turn deadly.
Thankfully, the cities of Golden and Denver have decided to tackle these issues head-on and put their money where their mouth is. Not only is each plan solid in its vision, but when you combine the two, the systemic problems found in the aforementioned fuck-ups are mostly eradicated.
Regarding the issue of officers being overworked, beginning in July 2023, the city of Golden experimented with changing their officers’ hours/days worked per week to incredibly optimistic results.
For employees working four 10-hour days, their daily shifts are now eight hours. Those already working an eight-hour day transitioned from a five-day work week to just four. Each employee is still paid for a full 40 hours each week, without any changes to their benefits.
When patrol officers come to work, they are “energetic, more engaged, ready to hit the road and get work done,” commander Marcus Williams told CNN in December. Each week, employees are asked how they’re feeling about the reduced hours on a scale of zero to 100. Three months in, those numbers were consistently in the 90s.
One of the major concerns brought up when this program began was whether the quality of police work would suffer as a result of the reduced work hours. To combat this, everyone in the department was given suggestions on how to maximize efficiency, and it seems to have worked. In a midpoint review, the police department noted that average response times for calls were considerably quicker between July and September during the pilot than during the same period the prior year.
Higher job satisfaction with no apparent drop in the quality of work, with officers more alert and mentally rested enough to perform the daily grind … why isn’t this being implemented everywhere? I know it’s just the beginning of the program, but I can’t see how spreading this concept to other departments for a trial run would be a bad thing.
When it comes to the other major complaint I used to hear from my officer-buddies—lack of support—Denver has addressed that issue to the tune of $6 million dollars.
In a December city council meeting, the city proposed a $6 million resolution to continue partnering with the nonprofit WellPower to have mental health clinicians go out with police on calls involving individuals with suspected mental health needs through November 30th, 2024.
Beginning in 2016, WellPower (a nonprofit recently referred to as the Mental Health Center of Denver), is Denver’s community health center responsible for the operation of the Crisis Intervention Response Unit. The Crisis Intervention Response Unit uses mental health clinicians with police officers who respond to any calls involving those with suspected mental health needs.
According to WellPower, while working with the city, 98% of encounters did not result in an arrest and 97% did not end with issuing a ticket, while 66% of encounters were recommended for mental health treatment. Though I am typically skeptical about statistics that are provided by those who benefit the most from them appearing a certain way, if Denver wants to fork over that kind of money to continue their eight-year relationship into the future, then clearly something positive is happening.
And outside of law enforcement, there’s another overwhelmed part of the judicial system that will be helped by Wellpower’s continued support: the jails.
A recent report released by the Colorado Sun found that Colorado is third-worst in the nation for the number of people per capita who are waiting for forensic psychiatric beds. These are used to treat people who are found incompetent to face criminal charges or are not guilty by reason of insanity.
Because there isn’t any room, people who have severe mental health needs and have broken the law are being placed in jails instead of getting to a location that can help them. With Wellpower aiding law enforcement in keeping people with mental health issues from committing the crime, it will keep them from needing one of the forensic psychiatric beds—thereby reducing stress on an already bursting institution.
At the end of the day, I know that there are bad cops out there who have done terrible, unjustifiable atrocities toward their fellow man. But I also know of just as many cops who are on the edge and screaming for help; officers who are trying to fight the good fight and are only asking for the resources necessary to do the job they know they were born to do.
Luckily for the police departments of Golden and Denver, someone turned up their hearing aids.