By CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) – As violent crime increases, the City of Denver is scrambling to hire more police officers. While its population has grown by nearly 150,000 people over the last decade, its police force has shrunk by about 100 officers.

(credit: CBS)

Police Chief Paul Pazen says they’re stretched to the limit.

“Our officers are struggling to address the 911 calls for service, that they’re going call to call to call and our response times increasing as a result of that,” he said.

He says the department is authorized for nearly 1,600 officers, but between budget cuts last year and retirements this year, it’s down 8%, or 140 officers. At the same time, 911 calls are up 8% over a three year average.

“We’re seeing significant increases in homicides and shooting and burglaries, auto thefts and in car break-ins,” Pazen said. “We have 42 recruits that are in the academy, which is a great thing, but they can’t answer a single 911 call.”

It will be months before those cadets are sworn in. Meanwhile, Pazen says about 80 officers have retired just since the beginning of the year. Many of them, he says, are switching careers because of a climate increasingly hostile toward police.

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen (credit: CBS)

“I have had officers that have retired recently that do point to … elected officials that have stated ‘defund abolish, decenter the police department.'”

Yet, he says poll after poll shows neighbors want more, not fewer, police officers. He’s aggressively recruiting, using the slogan “Be the change you want to see” and holding special events to attract more women to the force.

The current class of cadets, he says, is 30% women, 17% Black and 25% Latino, but they need more of them, he says, a lot more.

“The long and short of it is real simple. We’re looking for good people with big hearts who want to serve their community. That is it.”

The chief says Mayor Michael Hancock has been supportive and approved two additional academies to train police cadets this year.

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The city is not only seeing a shortage of police officers, but all public safety workers, which is why it is holding a job fair on Saturday, Aug. 28 at Ball Arena to hire everyone from police officers to firefighters to 911 operators.

Shaun Boyd