It’s an awkward time for Denver police to be negotiating a new, two-year contract — given the pandemic’s hit to the city budget and recent calls to defund police after their protest response — but the contract’s upcoming expiration has forced that conversation.
And even before all of the details of a tentative deal between the police union and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration have been released publicly, the administration and the City Council are fighting about it.
The agreement would include a nearly $5 million cut in what will likely be around a $250 million police budget next year but pay raises for officers in 2022, even as Denver stares down historic revenue losses and mandatory unpaid furlough days for other city employees.
It’s not yet clear when the tentative agreement will be sent to the council for a vote, though the group has received briefings on its details. Representatives of the Denver Police Protective Association did not respond to requests for comment, and few additional details of the proposal were available.
It’s a prudent agreement, Mayor Michael Hancock wrote to the council, and he urged them to approve it. Failure to do so would be irresponsible, he said.
The council’s involvement in the process started on the wrong foot when its representative was left out of the first days of negotiations — an accidental omission, said Ryan Luby, spokesperson for the city attorney’s office.
“It’s unfortunate and there’s no excuse for it,” said newly minted Council President Stacie Gilmore. “That’s where we really need to shore this process up and have it lock solid, so that the citizens of Denver are truly represented in this process.”
Some council members are also criticizing the proposed contract as absurd and tone deaf considering the city’s political climate and tax shortfalls.
“It’s an insult to all of the city employees who had to take much more (cuts) and are facing potential layoffs next year,” said Lisa Calderón, chief of staff for Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca.
City departments cut an average of 5.4% of their budgets this year, said finance department spokesperson Julie Smith, but the police department’s cut was 4.8%, or $12.1 million.
As the pandemic and recession continue, departments will be asked to set aside more than 11% of their budgets next year, Smith said.
Councilman Chris Hinds said it’s difficult to talk about a contract that’s such a big part of the city’s nearly $1.5 billion general fund budget when the council has yet to see the rest of Hancock’s proposed 2021 budget.
“I have been frustrated with the lack of transparency that we have,” he said.
Given the expected need for cuts to the overall budget, Hinds shares CdeBaca’s concern about city employees outside the Department of Public Safety.
“They get scraps compared to the half billion-plus annual budget our public safety gets,” he said. “This is going to be a way different conversation than last year’s conversation, and we will have to make tough calls.”
The proposal also comes amid protesters’ recent calls to defund Denver police — an effort that’s backed by CdeBaca, although she was unable to get colleagues’ support to put a defunding measure on the November ballot.
Despite the various concerns, it’s unclear whether enough council members oppose the contract to reject it outright.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, for instance, said he supports the proposed agreement. The police union agreement and budget are two separate issues, he said, and the union has no say in how much money the council gives the department.
“Shifting funds from the department is not a contractual issue,” Flynn said in a text message. “The labor contract is simply wages and benefits for those on the force.”
The contract’s $5 million in concessions from the union also meets the goal set by the city’s budget office, he said.
If the council did reject the agreement, it would go to arbitration, said Mike Strott, a spokesperson for Hancock.
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