Hickenlooper to cut Denver police force: ‘Writing a blank check is irresponsible’

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper Tuesday gave further indication that cuts in the city police force were on the way after the Denver Police Union voted not to postpone its annual 4 percent pay increase. In an appearance on the Caplis and Silverman radio show, Hickenlooper said that the police force is one of the highest priorities for the city, but “that doesn’t mean that you write a blank check. That’s irresponsible.”

The statement came after a 60-40 vote by the Police Protection Association to maintain its current contract, putting an end to Hickenlooper’s hopes of cutting what he said would be a $12 million slice out of the city budget, reportedly $120 million dollars in the red. As a result of the union’s decision not to accept the new contract stipulating a “postponement” of raises for one year, 91 police officers will be laid off, according to the mayor’s office.

In a release sent out Monday, Hickenlooper Chief of staff Kelly Brough wrote that the police union had two choices:

Forgo a raise next year and save officers’ jobs, or keep the raise and we would be left with no choice but to lay off officers… . We will now begin to identify how the city can minimize the impact on the number of officers on the street given that lay-offs are the remaining option.

Vincent Gravito, president of the Police Protection Association, told 7 News, “We do not want to take a pay reduction when we negotiated a contract when the city is still spending millions of dollars frivolous[ly] .

“Ninety-one officers is a large number to take off the streets.”

On the Caplis and Silverman show, Hickenlooper said that although the cuts will be difficult, the city’s police force is already overstaffed. “We have 50 or 60 officers too many right now, we are over authorized strength.” He explained that a large number of officers were scheduled to retire before the Democratic National Convention but stayed on in order to receive overtime. This year, in response to the economic uncertainties of the recession, many of those officers have decided to stay on.

“If we have to do that [layoffs] more than half of that is just getting down to authorized strength,” Hickenlooper said.

Extra officers were also hired on for the DNC, 7 News reported.

The number of officers is currently 1,518. The authorized level for the force is 1,448. That means that 21 of those officers are needed. Yet, according to the 7 News report, Police Chief Gerry Whitman said the department has functioned ion the past on as few as 1,380 officers.

The Mayor’s office asked for a similar agreement with firefighters. The Mayor’s office reports recently brokering a tentative agreement with Firefighters Local 858. The deal would save the city $3.2 million, an amount equal to the wage increase the firefighters were scheduled to receive next year.

“Denver Firefighters Local 858 has once again stepped up and helped the City deal with the current fiscal crisis. This agreement will help us avoid layoffs among firefighters,” is quoted to say in a press release.

Although the agreement has yet to be voted on by Local 858 members, it’s certain the firefighters are watching carefully as the thin blue line gets a thinner.

“It [the police force] is the last place we are touching and the least cuts that we are asking anywhere are the police departments. We have asked them far less than anyone else and we have invested far more over the last six years. There is no argument what the priority is. That doesn’t mean that you right a blank check. I think that that is irresponsible,” Hickenlooper said.

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