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Colo. sheriff’s office to change response to certain calls to prioritize jail staffing

Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams announced that patrol deputies will be temporarily reassigned to jail shifts; employees will be relocated back to their desired assignments “as soon as possible”

Weld County Jail

Weld County Sheriff’s Office

By Chris Bolin
Greeley Tribune, Colo.

GREELEY, Colo. — The Weld County Sheriff’s Office has suspended animal control services, and it will assess certain calls on a case-by-case basis to determine whether or not to send a patrol response while deputies are temporarily assigned to the Weld County Jail.

Some calls for service in the patrol division are being handled by phone and some are being referred to the online reporting system, depending on the severity of the crime reported and the resources available, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office. The change went into effect Monday.

“It is the sheriff’s top priority to provide effective law enforcement services to our community,” the release said. “This decision to change our operations and how we serve our community is not something the administrative staff took lightly.”

Sheriff Steve Reams said his primary responsibility is to keep the Weld County Jail operational, and all other agency operations are secondary to this responsibility.

Due to the staffing shortage, certain deputies will be reassigned to the jail temporarily, according to the release. Reams intends to relocate all employees back to their desired assignments as soon as possible.

“The Weld County Sheriff’s Office has been struggling with staffing for over two years,” Reams said. “We’ve finally reached a point where a shift is required to give employees at the jail relief. I am disappointed we find ourselves here.”

In 2021, construction finished on a new wing that added more than 370 beds to the jail — pushing the total number of inmates able to be housed to more than 1,300.

Reams said he believes changes in state laws pertaining to law enforcement were among the factors that led to the sheriff’s office’s shortage.

In 2020, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill focused on increasing accountability for law enforcement officers. The bill — most elements of which went into effect in July 2023 — tackles issues of police brutality and use of force through many provisions, including requiring officers to wear body cameras on duty, banning chokeholds and ending qualified immunity.

Prior to the bill removing qualified immunity, officers were protected from legal liability unless the violation of rights was “clearly established.”

Lawmakers passed a follow-up bill in 2021. It broadened the requirements to when body cameras must be worn and required all government entities that encrypt their radio communications to provide access to unencrypted radio transmissions for members of the media.

Reams also cited a national narrative against law enforcement, lack of competitive funding for hiring and retaining employees and a general workforce shortage as other reasons for the lack of staffing.

The sheriff’s office isn’t the only local department dealing with staffing issues since the pandemic. Severance recently had to pull their school resource officers out of schools due to a lack of officers. In March 2022, Greeley Police Chief Adam Turk called recruitment and retention “the largest priority and challenge” facing the department.

“The men and women of the Sheriff’s Office are committed to doing all they can to keep the community safe,” Reams wrote in a Facebook post. “Unfortunately, recruiting and retaining qualified employees to work in the law enforcement field is a challenge statewide.”

Reams said he has been working with the county commissioners to come to a solution but that “funding decisions are at the sole discretion of the board.”

The Board of County Commissioners has agreed to a mid-year supplemental fund to the sheriff’s office budget effective June 16 to try to address the agency’s most critical needs, but staff relocation will still be necessary for the foreseeable future, Reams said.

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