Officers piling up overtime hours, pay | AspenTimes.com

Officers piling up overtime hours, pay

Joel Stonington
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and Aspen Police Department are tens of thousands of dollars in the red for overtime pay this year.

Department heads say the uptick in overtime hours and pay is because each agency has struggled to fill vacant positions and train new employees. That’s left officers with extra patrol shifts and a need to prioritize work on unsolved cases.

For the first 10 months of this year, Aspen police have logged 2,698 overtime hours, and sheriff’s deputies have worked 2,765 overtime hours, according to public records. The sheriff’s office has now paid out $40,000 more than the $80,000 budgeted for overtime.

“This is why my kids don’t know me,” said Ron Ryan, lead investigator for the sheriff’s office. Ryan has worked 338 overtime hours so far this year, adding up to $18,424 in overtime pay. That accounts for nearly a quarter of the overtime budget for the sheriff’s office, and the greater number for either agency.

“We’ve been chronically short-staffed for six to eight months,” said Pitkin County undersheriff Joe DiSalvo. “We’ve had four people in training. Those four people take four people to train them. That’s eight people acting as four.”

The sheriff’s office lost five employees this year. With Friday’s resignation of chief Loren Ryerson, the police department has lost nine officers. One-third of Aspen’s police force, which accounts for 156 years of experience, has left the department.

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Two recent police recruits have nearly completed six months of training, but four more are coming out of the academy and need to be paired with a veteran officer for three months of training beginning in December. The police department is also in the process of hiring two additional officers.

Though the Aspen police have paid out $21,000 more than the overtime patrol budget of $99,880, acting police chief Richard Pryor said the department likely will be under budget because of the salary savings from the open positions.

“As long as people are performing to the best of their abilities, then the overtime is OK,” said Pryor, who has taken Ryerson’s place temporarily. “It’s just purely people covering shifts.”

During offseason, it hasn’t been as difficult for the agencies to cover, but officers are expecting a good deal more overtime before the year is over when the tourists return for the winter.

“Come high season, when we expect to carry a higher count of bodies on shifts; it may cause a little more stress,” said APD Sgt. Bill Linn. “We need more people on patrol, and we’re still short-staffed.”

In the past, Aspen police contracted with other agencies to provide security for visiting dignitaries. But his year, police have had their hands full with regular duties and haven’t been able to contract services out.

“We are too shorthanded,” said officer Walter Chi, who has worked 188 overtime hours this year. “There’s only so many hours that guys can work. Some of us are enjoying it, but it’s a lot more than we’ve ever had before.”

Chi said people who want overtime often are able to volunteer for extra hours, especially considering the high level of need. Linn said one officer who has a young child and another on the way is always up for overtime. On the flip side, detective Chris Womack said he volunteers for extra hours partially because he doesn’t have to worry about being home for family.

The investigating offices of both agencies have been understaffed this year, with Womack and Ryan serving as the only detectives, though there is funding for four between the two agencies. Womack has worked the most overtime hours for the police department, earning $12,477 in overtime pay this year.

Ryan has been the only investigator for the sheriff’s office this year since DiSalvo’s promotion to undersherriff, the second-in-command to Sheriff Bob Braudis. The police department is in a similar position ” Womack has been the only detective for the force after detective Eric Ross moved to Denver in the early fall.

“We have certainly been forced to prioritize investigations,” Ryan said. Womack and Ryan agreed that crimes against people make it to the top of the list. Financial and property crimes such as fraud are next, and some of the lesser crimes take a back seat.

DiSalvo said the department has had to focus on filling patrol shifts before concentrating on anything else. Though the sheriff has promoted deputy Brad Gibson to detective, Gibson hasn’t been able to work in that role because the department needs him on patrol.

One unifying theme among the officers on both sides of the aisle is recognition of the difficulty in hiring and retaining good people in the upper valley. Numerous people spoke of housing difficulties and other problems that are troubling for all employers in the area.

“It’s a sign of the changing times,” Ryan said. “We need housing. We need to recruit people who want to come here, then have the salary and benefits to attract and keep people.”

Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com.