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Denver Sheriff Overtime Payments Shatter Records

By Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4) - New figures from the Denver Sheriff Department show that Denver taxpayers forked out nearly $14 million in overtime for deputies in 2016, easily eclipsing previous overtime records set by the department.

"That's a high number, a lot of overtime," Denver Sheriff Patrick Firman told CBS4.

In 2015, the department paid deputies $10,725,362.82 in overtime, and in 2014, the figure was just over $8 million.

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Firman says the nearly doubling of overtime payments to $13, 983,488.21 within three years is due to a number of factors. He said the department was severely short staffed and had to hire about 200 new deputies last year.

Training them takes other deputies out of their positions and those spots have to be filled. He also said conducting crisis intervention training for deputies and use-of-force training removes deputies from their assignments, and those positions have to be filled.

"We have to fill these spots. There are certain posts that we can shut down safely and we look at those and can reduce the staffing in those" said Firman.

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The bulging overtime payments are creating a windfall for some deputies. Deputy Graham Dunn pulled down $111,081.39 in overtime payments last year. Coupled with his salary of more than $70,000 per year, Dunn made about as much as Mayor Michael Hancock, nearly twice as much as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and about the same as Colorado's U.S. senators.

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Not far behind Dunn is Deputy Gary Dolan, who has made almost a quarter million dollars in overtime in the last three years, not including his base salary.

While many deputies volunteer for the overtime shifts, there are more vacancies than there are volunteers and many deputies are forced to work overtime shifts.

"Some of this," said Firman, "you get to a point where some people have to be forced to work."

He said despite the skyrocketing overtime costs, the department remained within its budget in 2016.

The overtime burden appears to be taking its toll. CBS4 obtained an internal memo dated April 1 sent by jail Sgt. Randy Romero to a department Major.

"Have you observed staffing shortages for next week?" asked the deputy. "It is absolutely incredulous and a detriment to the safety and security of our staff and the safety and security of our citizens we have agreed to serve and protect while in our custody."

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On March 19, in an internal watch commander briefing report, the author wrote, "Deputy staffing has been a mess -- many staff members being ordered to work overtime."

Deputy Sheriff Mike Jackson, President of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge that represents Denver deputies, told CBS4, "It's out of control. It's crazy hours of overtime."

Jackson said while many deputies are pleased with the time-and-a-half overtime payments, many others have no interest in extending their shifts and just want to go home.

"Nobody gets away from working overtime. You have to work it."

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Jackson said the abundance of extra work creates a problematic pattern. He said the more overtime deputies work, the more burned out they get and the more likely they are to call in sick. That in turn creates another vacancy and more overtime for someone else.

"When people get tired and worn down they call in sick more and create more O.T.," said Jackson.

Part of the problem has been chronic understaffing at the downtown Denver detention center, which administrators say needs more deputies than was originally anticipated.

Firman predicts the overtime totals for 2017 will drop.

"We are going to see a drop in overtime and a drop in the staff that is forced to work. We anticipate it will be significantly lower," he said.

CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass has been with the station more than 30 years uncovering waste, fraud and corruption. Follow him on Twitter @Briancbs4.

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