Colorado police chief conference provides guidance amid changing law enforcement climate
Mental health of officers and department recruiting challenges are among hot-button issues at this year's event
From March 7-10, leaders in law enforcement from agencies across Colorado gathered in Broomfield for the 2023 Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police Mid-Year Conference and Executive Leadership Training.
Carrie Buhlman, the lieutenant under Eagle’s new chief of police, Derek Bos, was among the contingent of officers who attended this year’s conference. Bos didn’t attend this year, but he is no stranger to the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police events from his previous work as chief of police for the Brush Police Department from 2018 to 2022.
The conference is an opportunity for police chiefs from across the state to get together and network. The gathering also allows officers to work through challenges that may be new or unique to Colorado’s current law enforcement climate.
This year, a lot of the focus of the mid-year conference was on mental health. Much of Bulhman’s work with the Eagle Police Department specializes in mental health — including the mental health of officers. Buhlman said she was eager to engage in conversations on the topic with other leaders in law enforcement.
“There’s mental health calls that we respond to, but the mental health of our officers and navigating both of those are very challenging,” Bos said. “I think there were some very good takeaways at the conference of mental health for our officers and resources that are out there.”
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The Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police tries to focus on only a handful of topics at each conference to avoid information overkill.
“If it’s everything we should know, it’d be a lot more than four days,” Bos said.
So, with the conference’s limited time, topics are selected by relevance so that agencies can find guidance on some potentially more current issues.
This year’s conference and previous gatherings have focused on the dramatically shifting landscape of the law enforcement field, particularly with new laws being consistently signed into action, Bos said.
The state is writing laws at a very fast pace since the onset of the pandemic, he said:
“No one of us can keep track of all of that,” he said.
Because of this continual evolution and establishment of laws, Bos said the mid-year conference is a great opportunity for law enforcement leaders to share what they understand with one another and work to digest new information.
“We need opportunities to stop and be told, ‘Here’s what’s going on’ to stop and catch our breath and see what’s happening,” Bos said. “Collectively, I think there’s a benefit in all of us saying, ‘Hey, I understand this law a little bit, here’s what it says,’ and somebody else coming to the table and saying, ‘I understand this law.’”
Recruitment has also persisted as a challenge for local agencies over the past few years. Since 2020, more people left the law enforcement profession and less people jumped to fill vacancies across the state. Due to recruitment challenges, several agencies statewide have been forced to operate with a partial team.
Bos said recruitment challenges have been no stranger to the Eagle County law enforcement landscape, but he said there’s another trend altering the state’s law enforcement climate that exists locally as well.
“One of the bigger challenges, really since 2020, is our very tenured chiefs are retiring,” Bos said. “So, you used to have chiefs who did 20, 21 years. Chief (Dwight) Henninger up in Vail, I hope I’m as wise and energetic as he is in the next 20 years when I retire. But we’re seeing more and more of those tenured leaders leaving and that creates some new voids for experienced leadership.”
To address challenges agencies are facing, the conference facilitated discussions about recruitment and industry turnover so that the chiefs of police and other law enforcement leaders had a stronger footing when returning to their respective agencies to tackle such issues.
Together, conference attendees were able to discuss how to move forward by developing new leaders and sustaining established agencies’ quality of service.
Hearing and learning from peers that are facing the same challenges can be reassuring, Bos said.
“Recruitment retention is a big topic and knowing that, you know, Pueblo Police Department is struggling with the same challenges we have of bringing people in and hiring,” Bos said. “Sometimes it’s good just knowing you’re not alone.”
Not feeling alone is a big benefit of the statewide events, Buhlman said. Meeting representatives from other agencies allowed her to gain insight into the workings of larger agencies, smaller agencies and even far-away agencies as well.
“We really interact with people in the Western Slope,” Buhlman said. “So, to get a viewpoint or gain a contact or someone that might have a specialty (is great).”
Buhlman said that even simply adding a person’s number to her contact list can end up being so helpful down the road in her profession.