Colorado SpringsNews

Detention-specific training to replace POST certification in El Paso County jail, sheriff says

Author: Kaitlin Durbin - July 3, 2018 - Updated: July 3, 2018

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Bunk beds for inmates fill one of the areas of the El Paso County Jail in 2017. (The Gazette file photo)

Picture this: You’ve just completed an intensive 22-week academy to become an El Paso County sheriff’s deputy.

But rather than hitting the streets to write tickets, make arrests and interrogate suspects, you’re sent to the jail to watch over inmates 10 hours a day.

That’s the reality for newly sworn deputies when they finish their Peace Office Standards Training. They’re all routed directly to the jail. Some quit, and others move to other agencies that can place them on the street, Sheriff Bill Elder says.

Neither scenario is good for the county, so the Sheriff’s Office will launch a detention-only academy to prepare deputies for jail duty. They’ll still be sworn and armed, but they won’t be POST certified, meaning they will be ineligible for patrol duties without first attending a full academy.

“You won’t be able to tell the difference,” between the two deputies, Elder said Monday at a news conference. “We believe we will better train them for the position they will work.”

The first detention academy is expected to start in August with 45 recruits.

El Paso is one of three Colorado counties, with Boulder and Adams counties, that has all of its deputies POST certified, Elder said, and Adams might also change certification for jailers.

POST certification is vital for patrol deputies, who arrest people, drive a patrol car, testify in court and conduct searches and interrogations, among other duties, Elder said.

But the academy costs $60,000 per person, and it’s not essential for jail deputies, Elder said. So by skipping POST certification, the county will save money, won’t waste money on deputies who decide to work elsewhere and will pay detention-trained deputies a starting salary of $50,000, about $11,000 less than a POST-certified deputy.

If deputies eventually wish to transition to patrol, the office will pay for the additional training, Elder said. But with a patrol strength at full capacity with 78, and fewer annual openings, those transfers would be few. Boulder County, for example, transfers two to four deputies each year, Elder said.

With the cost savings, the Sheriff’s Office also can put more deputies through detention training each year. POST training takes 22 weeks, plus six weeks of detention training.

The jail-specific training will last 15 weeks and will ease staffing woes by keeping pace with attrition, which Elder estimated at five to six employees a month.

“We’re creating a way to hire more without increasing the budget,” he said.

While the office is a few employees shy of its authorized sworn strength of 534, the jail population keeps growing, and the office needs to hire deputies to keep up, Elder said. Monday, the jail had 1,738 inmates, not far below the record of 1,791 inmates set last summer, records show.

The uneven ratio can create a safety risk. Last year, 72 assaults on staff occurred, records show. Nearly half involved only bodily fluids, but the other half were physical assaults. This year, 27 assaults have occurred, 16 of them physical.

“Some injuries could be because there was not enough staff to handle the serious assaults,” Elder said.

Kaitlin Durbin

Kaitlin Durbin