In the year followingthe 2013 murder of state prison chief Tom Clements
by a parole absconder, parole officers working for the Colorado Department of Corrections put in for an unprecedented 8,858 hours of overtime pay -- and nearly a third of that overtime was logged by one small, elite team created in the wake of Clements's death to track down fugitives.
Averaged for the hundreds of employees in the parole division, the overtime amounts to about 30 hours per officer. But the 2,741 hours claimed by the ten-member Fugitive Apprehension Unit during its first full year of operation works out to ten times that much overtime per officer. (Only nine members of the unit are actually eligible for overtime.)
Created in August 2013, the FAU was part of the DOC's multi-pronged response to the rampage five months earlier of parolee Evan Ebel, who'd removed his ankle monitor and dropped out of sight of his handlers days before he killed Nathan Leon and Clements. Over the past eighteen months, there's been a shakeup in parole leadership, a crackdown on parole violators and considerable resources poured into the operations of the FAU, which took credit for 812 apprehensions or "clearances" of outstanding fugitive cases in its first year.
But, as a report on 7News first pointed out, only 248 of those cases were worked solely by the FAU. Others resulted from collaboration with other law enforcement agencies or community parole officers, and fully a fifth of that total didn't directly involve the FAU at all. Eight of the fugitives in question turned out to be deceased.
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The unit also drew some heat last summer over the Ebel-like case of Daniel Stetzel, a violent escapee from a halfway house who was at large for weeks before the DOC began to look for him -- the day after Stetzel allegedly killed his mother.
Unlike other parole officers, the FAU members don't have regular caseloads; their main job is chasing down absconders. So how did they rack up what amounts to an extra seven weeks of full-time work in one year? Last fall's multi-agency manhunt for the killer of ten-year-old Jessica Ridgeway may have been partly to blame, but DOC spokeswoman Adrienne Jacobson says it's in the general nature of the job.
"FAU members respond whenever information is received regarding the whereabouts of a fugitive," she says. "If the information is received in the middle of the night, employees are deployed in order to apprehend the fugitive. If the unit has been tracking a fugitive all day and at five p.m. they have him/her isolated, they don't call off the search until the next day; they complete the mission. These actions can result in accrual of overtime."
Other sources inside DOC say that overtime had been a scarce commodity in the years leading up to the Clements murder, but the chief's death resulted in a budget-busting scramble of new procedures and reforms. That may be settling down, though. A recently circulated internal memorandum states that in 2015 DOC staff may not work more than sixty hours of overtime without special authorization.