Sheriffs’ departments in Colorado are being stretched thinner – sometimes dangerously so – as populations increase and service areas spread, the Denver Post reports. Sheriffs’ budgets often aren’t keeping pace, and limited numbers of deputies have hundreds of square miles to patrol. Counties see longer response times, understaffed units, and slashed programs. A federal lawsuit claims understaffing at the Elbert County Sheriff’s Office contributed to the death of Jennifer Brooke. She died in 2003, after being mauled by a neighbor’s pit bulls. Help took 65 minutes to arrive.
With a $1.45 million annual budget, Elbert’s 28 deputies patrol 1,850 unincorporated square miles and serve 22,254 people in those areas. “We are not prepared,” said Elbert County Sheriff Bill Frangis, noting that his staffing is well below the FBI-recommended ratio of 1.9 officers per 1,000 residents. “It is extremely difficult to have two people on patrol at one time.” In rural areas, where small staffs and vast distances add up to long waits. Said a former sheriff: “If you expect a cop on your door in five minutes, it is not going to happen.” In Boulder County, Lt. Phil West sometimes asks residents “How many people patrol the county on a typical Tuesday night?” Answers range from 200 to 400. In fact, there are 40.