By Benjamin Neufeld
On the morning of Friday, September 9, Denver County Sheriff, Elias Diggins, swore in Janelle Orozco to the rank of major. Major Orozco, Sheriff Diggins stressed, is now the highest-ranking Latina in the 120-year history of the Denver Sheriff Department in Colorado.
A ceremony at the Van Cise Simonet Downtown Detention Center commemorated the event. Many of Orozco’s friends, coworkers, her husband, her five children, and her mother—Denver City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega—attended to celebrate the occasion.
During a short speech, Denver’s Director of safety, Armando Saldate, recounted meeting (then) Sergeant Orozco when he first joined the Sheriff’s department. “She took me around the county jail when she was in her former operations role,” he said. “I remember it vividly. I remember what a leader she was back then. I remember that everyone we met at the county jail and every place she showed me, she was greeted with this huge smile, that everyone was happy to see her, she knew everyone by first name, and she also knew everyone’s job inside and out.”
Saldate further emphasized the significance of the occasion, saying that, as the father of a young Latina himself, he is glad to see someone like Major Orozco become a role model for diverse groups of young women.
“Twenty-two-year-old me would have never dreamt I would be standing here today, being promoted to major.”
Major Janelle Orozco, Denver Sheriff Department
Major Orozco’s mother, Debbie Ortega, said she was not surprised to see her daughter having achieved this accomplishment. “She’s just a hard worker—a go-getter. When she doesn’t know something, she’ll figure out how to get it done,” she told El Semanario.
However, Orozco herself had not planned on reaching this level of success. “Twenty-two-year-old me would have never dreamt I would be standing here today, being promoted to major,” she said during her speech at the ceremony.
Major Orozco was born and raised in Denver. She joined the sheriff department in 2003 when she was 22 years old. She made the decision to join after getting the opportunity to take a tour of the Denver County jail with a group of other young people. “Just seeing what the sheriff department entailed and seeing the men and women in uniform really inspired me,” she said. She saw it as “an opportunity to provide for my family as well.”
Moving up the ranks was not on Major Orozco’s mind at this point in her career. Instead, she intended simply to master her entry level position. “Going into the sheriff department, I never thought that far out as far as becoming a sergeant, a captain, [or] a major,” she said. “It was just a matter of becoming the best deputy I could be. When I moved to sergeant, it was a matter of becoming the best sergeant, and then [best] captain, and now I’m excited to jump into this major role to be able to learn as much as I can.” She credits her continued success to “the encouragement of my mentors and my family.”
Major Orozco worked at the county jail for nine years before moving onto the operations unit where she worked on policy and procedure for two years. After testing to become a sergeant, she moved to work at the downtown detention center. Eventually she moved back to operations, which she oversaw for almost three years. After getting promoted to captain, she worked again at the downtown detention center, then with the intake department, and then most recently at the correctional care medical facility.
In her new role, Major Orozco will oversee recruitment for the sheriff department. Staffing shortages and low recruitment levels have been a persistent issue for the sheriff department and law enforcement agencies across the country since the onset of the pandemic and widespread civil unrest during the summer of 2020. Most experts attribute this problem to low pay, a long hiring process, and negative perceptions of policing.
The Denver Sheriff department is currently looking to hire over 250 new deputies. Major Orozco is ready for the challenge. “I’m really excited to jump into [this] role and help build those numbers up so that we can bring great people into the sheriff department to build on our team.”
“We’re looking for men and women of all ages, age ranges, ethnicities, and backgrounds to come and join our team,” said Orozco. “I think diversity has always been an important aspect. The [Denver] Sheriff department does an amazing job with their diversity.”
According to Orozco, 22% of the sheriff department staff is female—in comparison, most other law enforcement agencies have a percentage somewhere in the teens. The strong diversity of ethnic backgrounds and experiences also distinguishes the Denver Sheriff Department, says Major Orozco.
Both in her position as the head of recruitment and as a role model, Orozco hopes “to inspire young men and women in my community to get involved and apply for law enforcement agencies—or even the Denver sheriff department, because this is a great agency to work for.”
The Denver Sheriff Department is currently hiring for their November academy; Major Orozco wants to encourage anyone interested to apply.
Benjamin Neufeld is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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