Amid a huge budget crunch and intense criticism of policing locally and nationally, Denver police officers are willing to forgo a raise next year but want to see two salary bumps in 2022 totaling a 2.77 percent increase.
That’s one big takeaway from the latest available information on the police union’s collective bargaining agreement, the contract that dictates pay and benefits for officers, from recruits to captains.
If approved by the Denver City Council and signed by Mayor Michael Hancock, the two-year agreement with the Denver Police Protective Association would scrap 10 paid holidays for officers in 2021 and lower taxpayers’ contribution to police pensions by $360,000. Both of those reductions would be restored in 2022 in addition to the pay hike, said Rob Nespor, a city attorney who led the government’s negotiations.
On Wednesday, the city council’s seven-person Safety, Housing, Education & Homelessness Committee advanced the contract to a vote of the full city council. Some members, including Council President Stacie Gilmore, said they don’t support the contract but want to give all 13 members a chance to debate and vote on it.
“I would not support this today, I would not support it on the floor, but if the only way to get it to the floor … is to pass it out of committee, I would ask folks to do that so that we can do this sooner than later and get to the next steps in the process,” Gilmore said.
An independent arbitrator would sort things out if the city and the union cannot agree on current terms. Once approved, the contract can be reopened if both parties agree.
City officials have framed the agreement as a way to save money — not as a response to calls for police reform — as Denver tries to close a $227 million budget gap. The agreement might inflate the city budget in 2022, but it would save the city nearly $5 million next year, according to council documents.
Agreements with police unions can be one venue for reform, according to some council members, including Candi CdeBaca, who has made clear that she sees every dollar given to police raises as a dollar not given to social services that treat crime’s root causes.
Councilwoman Robin Kniech, who said she doesn’t support the contract, made clear that policy changes and things like layoffs, discipline, and police funding outside of pay and benefits are non-negotiable in Denver’s collective bargaining talks despite how other cities do things.
Some council members and residents took issue with the two-year contract despite its savings in year one. Some said it is unwise to guarantee raises, given economic uncertainties. Others said it was simply unfair.
“This contract guarantees an almost 3 percent salary increase that no other city employee will have, sending the message that the police officers are the most important part of city fabric, which is nothing the people have agreed to or voted on,” said Frana Burtness-Adams, who spoke during the public hearing. “Overall, this disagreement unfairly disadvantages all other essential city employees who are not allowed to collectively bargain for raises or lost pay due to mandatory furloughs.”
The agreement would ensure recruits get $60,257 and captains get $150,207 a year, according to the current contract between police officers and the city.
The collective bargaining agreement is hidden from public view, and early negotiations omitted any representation from the legislative branch.
While the public knows what can and cannot be discussed during negotiations, specifics are limited to what city officials shared Wednesday.
Negotiations began June 30, and for the first two days of the five-day negotiations, they lacked any representative from city council despite the city charter guaranteeing them a seat at the table. Nespor admitted to what he called an “oversight” that “was rectified as soon as it was made known.” But some council members felt slighted as calls to defund the police echo and called for public negotiations.
“We’re a public agency, not a corporation or some organization with secret sauce,” CdeBaca said.
“Not just folks like me with law degrees should be able to figure out how to follow this,” said Elizabeth Epps, founder of the Colorado Freedom Fund. “If every other committee meeting is recorded and live-streamed and announced and archived, then so should every bargaining meeting. I think that’s really important.”
In a statement, City Attorney’s Office spokesman Ryan Luby said, “Negotiations are held privately as a matter of best practice. Airing negotiations on any agreement in a public setting would have a chilling effect on the process, and would hurt the city’s negotiating power.”
Legislative Counsel Kirsten Crawford said that while a public process is technically possible, “it’s been decided for some time that we’re gonna get something better for our community if we keep that process confidential.”