A bag of fentanyl pressed into blue pills is marked as evidence on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, at the Mesa County Sheriff's Office in Grand Junction, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)

A coalition of police and sheriffs wants the state legislature to focus on helping law enforcement address acute recruitment and retention challenges and ensure that local agencies can easily access funding.

The coalition composed of Colorado Fraternal Order of Police, the County Sheriffs of Colorado and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police also asked legislators to approach crime legislation "with a victim-first focus."

"It is important that lawmakers approach crime legislation with a victim-first focus that provides the tools needed to keep our communities safe while offering both treatment and accountability for dangerous offenders," the Public Safety Colorado Coalition said in a statement. 

The first day of the Colorado General Assembly's 2023 legislative session opened Monday. Many consider this year's batch of lawmakers to be among the most liberal-leaning legislature in state history following Democratic victories in the November, when the majority party flipped seven seats from red to blue in November, leading to a 69-31 Democrat-Republican split at the Capitol.

In a statement, the law enforcement coalition said tackling the root causes of crime — by addressing social determinants, such as poverty, housing, and behavioral health support — is critical.

"The needs of offenders do matter, and rehabilitation and prevention are important policy issues," the group said. "These needs, however, should not be placed ahead of the safety of their victims and of the law-abiding community at large."

The group also urged policymakers to consider law enforcement's local and varied needs. 

"We encourage legislators to recognize these differences and not let crime issues in major metro areas dictate the conversation and policy decisions for all Colorado law enforcement. Different communities need different solutions," the group said. 

But top of mind for the group is the ability to recruit and retain officers, an area that agencies has struggled with for years.

The group said police departments and sheriff’s offices grapple with understaffing and lack of recruits to keep staffing levels adequate, noting its statewide survey last year in which more than 50 percent of respondents said staffing shortages have gotten worse within their agencies.

The group said staffing shortages pressure agencies to use overtime, which also means asking officers to cover more shifts.

That, the group said, affects officer morale and makes retention of officers more difficult. 

Without expressly declaring so, the group also effectively pleaded with the legislature to let previously approved changes to criminal laws play out before adopting new ones.

The public safety situation in Colorado, the group said, has gone through significant changes over the past five years.

"Many of those changes are still being implemented by agencies across the state, and we ask that lawmakers work with our three organizations to collaborate on issues and concerns they might have about law enforcement," the group said, adding it is committed to working collaboratively and sharing its professional expertise with lawmakers.

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