By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
The Denver Police Department might have to reduce the size of its police force to help the city bite into its $120 million budget gap, Mayor John Hickenlooper announced Tuesday.
Hickenlooper said he was originally hoping that Denver Police Department (DPD) officers would voluntarily reopen their contracts and delay their 4.5-percent raises for 12 months. The move would have saved the city — which is facing a severe budget gap because of a decline in sales tax revenue — around $12 million, he said.
But after failed negotiation talks with DPD’s union on Monday, the mayor said he must now consider reducing the size of the force by more than 90 people. DPD currently staffs approximately 1,517 people, according to DPD spokesman Sonny Jackson.
“We have police officers everyday who are working to make the city safe,” Hickenlooper said. “But we are in the most difficult fiscal situation…since the great depression.”
Hickenlooper said the “door is never closed” on further negotiations with DPD, adding that you don’t get out of a recession by laying off people. However, because DPD’s union rejected Hickenlooper’s proposal to delay raises, he said he is now left with few options.
The mayor stressed that a reduction in the police force doesn’t mean there would be fewer officers on the streets. He said that DPD could restructure itself to ensure the same level of police officers is on patrol in Denver after the potential staffing cuts.
Additionally, thanks to the DPD beefing up its staff for last summer’s Democratic National Convention, the police department currently has an excess of capacity of more than 50 police officers. The city figured that “normal interests” would take care of the excess, but fewer officers have retired because of the economic downturn, according to Hickenlooper.
“I think our goal that we have to make sure we’re very clear on…is how do we make sure we keep the same number of police officers on the street (and) make sure that we keep our city as safe as it can possibly,” he said.
Though Hickenlooper said he is asking for fewer cuts from safety agencies than from other city departments, he added that he understands it’s hard for DPD officers to consider putting off their raises when many of them have families and tight budgets. Also, many newer police officers are just now eligible to receive some substantial raises, he said.
“They’re going from $55,000 to $62,000, or $62,000 to $67,000,” he said. “They’re starting to make bigger raises and it’s going to be hard for them, and certainly it’s not our preference. We look at it as a last resource.”
However, the fact remains that people might lose their jobs because of DPD’s union refusal to delay the raises, a prospect that upset Denver City Councilwoman Jeanne Robb Tuesday.
“I’m struggling and disappointed that if we could have deferred those raises, we would see everyone on the police force…keep a job,” she said. “I struggle with that.”
The DPD union could not be reached for comment on multiple occasions Tuesday.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters