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Local police shortage offers an opportunity

Locations: News Published

Have you ever dreamed of a job in law enforcement? It might not be as far-fetched as you think.

If you’re at least 21, without any felony convictions, no domestic violence crimes, hold a valid driver’s license, have a high school diploma or General Education Diploma (GED) equivalent and are physically and mentally self-supported, you can apply.

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Stewart Curry, director of Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy (CLETA) maintained, “You don’t need to be a big strong guy, but you need to be smart and mentally tough. And you really have to care about the community.”

It’s not easy. However, there are opportunities here.

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Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling confirmed there are three open police officer slots.

“We’re searching for the right people who fit in well with our department and our community,” he said. “The incentives are great. From educational to healthcare to all police gear, to extensive field training, you get major benefits.”

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He explained that salaries can differ around the state and other communities near Denver offer more money to start.

And that’s the rub. While opportunities abound in law enforcement, it can be hard to get people to come to work in Carbondale, Schilling said. “We are learning better ways to attract good candidates.”

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But, he added, the department has reached out to CLETA programs around the state with no luck. He explained that some people want to work in their own communities and others see the lower salary and fewer affordable housing options to be obstacles to coming here.

Schilling noted that three officers are living in affordable housing units and added, “We are working with the town to provide more availability.”

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As a result of the police shortages, shifts are longer, but officers concur that it’s OK. The department employs several bilingual officers and one female and would like additional diversity.

Lt. Chris Wurtsmith handles recruitment in the department.

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“Here in the department, we all agree our goal is having a  carefully selected team,” he said. “It’s worth the wait.”

“It’s a different, more relaxed lifestyle here for officers and their families,” Schilling added. “Potential recruits will learn the most by riding along on patrol.”

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“People are very supportive, especially since the July 2018 Lake Christine Fire, We’ve been receiving thank yous ranging from ‘You’re all brave first responders’ to ‘Here’s some homemade cookies,’” he smiled.

All new recruits without prior law enforcement experience must graduate from a Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy (CLETA) like the Colorado Mountain College’s program at its Spring Valley Campus.

Curry, himself an academy graduate, described the kind of people who enroll as “usually type A personalities who like to stay quite active, especially in the outdoors.”

“We emphasize a community-oriented policing approach in our training programs by stressing teamwork, responsibility and an openness to learning new and challenging approaches,” he added.

Each year, Curry continued, applicants come in who are thinking of switching careers or are retired. “They want to reach their goals,” he noted.

Women are coming into law enforcement in growing numbers. In December 2018, half of the graduates were women, comprising the largest number of policewomen in any of the academy’s graduating classes so far.

The academy offers three sessions yearly, each with 612 full-time hours of training. The curriculum is certified by the Colorado State Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST).

Many enrollees have already been hired for police work, and in that case, the hiring department usually picks up the tuition costs. And 95 percent of those who come in without law enforcement employment are hired immediately

The course work is tough and requires the ability to do college-level work. The rules and regulations are substantial and set in stone. For example,“any absence from a skills (shooting, driving arrest control) class will result in failure of that class.”

As Curry explained, “There is great pressure on a peace officer to do the right thing in any given situation. There are few occupations where decisions can mean life or death, where fast thinking can avoid and mitigate conflict and where actions are scrutinized after the fact.”

If you want to learn more about the department’s opportunities, contact Wurtsmith at chrisw@carbondaleco.net or 510-1225. For information on CMC CLETA go to coloradomtn.edu or contact Curry directly at scurry@coloradomtn.edu or  947-8173.

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