City of Aspen short-staffed in parks and rec, police
Service reductions and less police presence in community likely in coming months
Due to a growing labor shortage within the city of Aspen, the public should expect to experience a decrease in services this summer in community policing and parks and recreation.
City Manager Sara Ott said 10% of full-time positions are vacant in the municipal government and even more so in the temporary, seasonal job pool.
The city is trying to fill positions for lifeguards, camp counselors, softball umpires, parks maintenance, seasonal golf workers and more.
“We are going to have some softball games that don’t have an umpire or only have one umpire compared to the normal two,” Ott said last week. “Our locals are resilient, roll-with-it people, and I know it’s upsetting that these kinds of things are happening temporarily.”
A shortage of police officers will likely be noticeable, with five sworn positions and two community resource officers open.
“I have had command staff being the first on scene sometimes in the last six months, and that’s generally not the best situation for the community to be in,” Ott said. “The police department is one of the departments that I am concerned about.”
Fewer officers on the force means fewer resources to respond to public safety calls like wildlife sightings.
“We are going to have a little less of people walking around as perhaps people experienced during the pandemic summers,” Ott said. “So when a bear gets stuck in a tree by its own choices, usually we have an officer who has stayed there the entire time, or a community safety officer, and that’s not necessarily going to be something that can happen.”
The police department will set up a perimeter to keep the bear and humans safe, along with some educational messaging.
If a neighborhood has concerns, they’ll be met when resources are available.
“We’ll certainly have folks there whenever we can, but it’s not necessarily going to be proactive,” Ott said.
Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor confirmed that all proactive patrol expectations such as walking the pedestrian malls, conducting traffic stops, patrolling the West End neighborhood and nighttime bar checks might be less frequent.
The reassignment of detectives and human service officers will likely cover patrol shifts, which may affect response to those with mental health issues and case investigations, he said.
“Chiefs are filling some patrol shifts to cover for training for patrol staff and spending more time assisting with day-to-day operations,” Pryor said via email over the weekend. “The above being said, we are still able to meet minimum staffing goals for shifts.”
Community resource officer staffing is 30% understaffed. Those officers cover wildlife issues, accidents and medical calls, among other things, and will have to prioritize responses as best they can, Pryor said.
“Patrol officers will also cover those calls where possible,” he said, adding that it will take the burden off the force if people secure their trash containers to avoid bear activity.
Data for this year to date indicates an increase over 2021 call numbers but still fewer than pre-COVID-19 times in 2019, which hopefully continues to give the APD a bit of a break while it builds staffing back, Pryor said.
The department does have enough capacity that it can re-task assistant chiefs, detectives, human service officers and a school resource officer should larger incidents occur.
The short staffing within the department is the result of three tenured officers retiring, along with usual turnover the department experiences regularly.
If no one else leaves and all positions are filled soon, Pryor expects to be at full effective “on the street” staffing by May 2023.
It can take a year to get an officer on the street, if the city spends three months recruiting, then the individual goes through six months in the police academy and then field training, Ott noted.
The city is offering a $3,500 sign-on, lateral transfer bonus for those who have peace officer certification.
Pryor said there are two new recruits who have been hired and are at the Breckenridge Police Academy and another one who will start in June and attend the August academy in Glenwood.
The APD has been short staffed before, and Pryor said he expects that the department will be able to give the quality service the public would hope to see most of the time.
“What I’d ask the community is just to be aware of our current constraints and that for lower priority calls to occasionally expect a slower response,” he said.
As for the rest of the seasonal and temporary positions open within the city, Ott said the municipal government is trying to be competitive with wage and benefit increases, but that’s proving not to be enough.
“There’s a beginning and end-of-season bonus and returning staff bonus program,” she said. “The crux of it comes back to housing.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a part-time or full-time job,” she continued. “Like every other employer, we are feeling the housing crunch and the loss of affordable free-market housing opportunities for locals.”
Cuts to the hours of operation at the Aspen Recreation Center or within parks programs are possible.
“I think ultimately we’re going to have to contemplate whether to request some service hour reductions with City Council,” Ott said. “I think we’ll make some announcements probably in June; we are going to keep pushing the recruiting a little while longer, but we’ll have to make service level decisions and we’re going to prioritize weekday programming for particularly youth where it’s helping our working families for when school is out.”