Aspen Police offer cash, housing in push for new officers
In a bid to get a leg up in a hyper-competitive job market, the Aspen Police Department is not only promising prospective officers thousands in cash, it is also offering the holy grail of mountain town perks: housing.
“When I first applied to be a police officer (27 years ago), there were two openings and 115 people came and tested at the ballroom at the St. Regis,” Aspen Assistant Chief Bill Linn said Monday. “Now we are happy to test the (lone) applicant (we receive). We’re getting them one and two at a time.”
Part of the issue is the job itself, which is less appealing in today’s culture. In addition, it is a difficult job application process that includes a background check, written tests, a psychological test, so the tight job market seems tighter, he said.
“Other city (job postings) are experiencing the same thing,” Linn said. “Just a complete lack of candidates.”
Aspen Police currently have two vacancies and the upcoming retirements of at least three others, so the department needs to hire five to six new officers. The department is particularly interested in candidates with a counseling, therapy or human services background.
The process for new officers can take a year from application to patrolling on the streets. To help kick start it, the department is offering a cash bonus of $3,500 for lateral-transfer officers who are already certified, and $2,000 to newbie recruits who make it through the process, Linn said.
In addition, the city has made two two-bedroom affordable housing units in the Aspen area available for officers without housing in the Roaring Fork Valley, he said. The city also sponsors other programs to help pay for moving expenses, rental deposits and down payments on purchases.
“Obviously, housing is a huge hurdle for a candidate for any position in the valley,” Linn said.
Finally, Aspen Police aren’t looking for just anyone, so department officials are picky.
“The biggest thing is to be a good fit for our department,” he said. “A good cop in downtown Denver is not necessarily a good cop in downtown Aspen. When your candidate pool is two or three (people), the odds (of finding the right person) are not great.”
Starting officers make a salary in the mid-$50,000s, plus benefits.
The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office is in a bit better position, with just two patrol deputy spots open and candidates in the pipeline to try and fill them, Undersheriff Alex Burchetta said.
The agency offers signing bonuses for deputies as a recruitment tool and housing assistance money for the first year on the job, he said. However, it does not routinely offer the bonuses to candidates.
“Money speaks right now,” Burchetta said. “That’s the job market we’re in now.”
The Sheriff’s Office is working to revamp the recruitment process, he said, though the patrol staff is in a good spot heading in to the winter. Several openings remain at the Pitkin County Jail and the 911 emergency dispatch center.
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