Analysis

City of Denver’s 2021 budget cuts pay for workers, gives future raises to Denver Police

The author of this article is a full-time employee with the City and County of Denver and an organizer for the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of working-class people in Denver out of work, the City and County of Denver gave Denver Police officers raises in 2022. This will account for approximately 1,450 police officers receiving pay raises. Since March, over 785,000 people have filed new unemployment claims in Colorado

Meanwhile, city employees in Denver are receiving pay cuts. In September, Denver mayor Michael Hancock gave his 2021 City of Denver budget proposal to the city council, which included $154 million in cuts. Out of the $154 million, $12 million was to be saved through furlough days, which are excluded for uniformed officers, like sheriffs and firefighters. City employees were forced to take eight mandatory unpaid furlough days between the time the budget was passed and the end of 2020, and their pay increases are frozen “until further notice.” Additional furlough days will be mandatory in 2021.

Meanwhile, the City of Denver worked with Denver Police to grant them TWO raises in the coming years — a percent increase in 2022, and then another 1.5 percent raise seven months later. 

Despite protests, falling crime, racist violence, Denver police get bulk of city budget

City council members originally turned down the proposed raises for the DPD, but voted to approve them in December. The overall budget plan for 2021 does cut the police budget by $24 million, the majority of these savings coming from a so-called “accounting shift” in how the city pays police at Denver International Airport, and some coming from decreasing new hires. But with the police budget still at $230 million and 42 percent of the overall budget — more than the next five allocations combined — there is no threat that the police will be “defunded” in Denver. 

In fact, Mayor Hancock made sure to let the police know that he would continue to fork over millions in tax dollars. “So long as I am mayor, we will not defund the Denver Police Department,” he said amidst the mass protests last summer, citing spurious reports of rising crime. When proposing his budget in September, he insisted that the cuts to the police budget were not because of the mass protests. 

In fact, the yearly police budget in Denver has increased by nearly $100 million dollars from 30 years ago, while violent crime has dropped by 40 percent in the same time span

In the beginning of December, Denver’s Office of the Independent Monitor released a damning 69-page report detailing the violence that Denver police used in repressing protests last summer. More than 50 people are currently suing the department due to injuries from police violence during the protests. 

Denver has a long history of racist police killings. Activists brought up many of the names of those killed locally during the protests last summer — Paul Childs, Ryan Ronquillo, Jesse Hernandez, Paul Castaway, and William Debose, to name only a few. 

City workers ask — is my full-time job enough?

For many city employees, furlough days mean the necessity of taking on a part-time job to supplement lost wages.

One City of Denver employee expressed major concern, as she “has a mortgage to pay, utilities, and other bills that have not stopped since the virus started — [landlords, bill collectors] still want their money.”

In the last months of 2020, city workers were asked to take eight furlough days. In 2021, the city budget forces the 14,000 city employees in Denver to take even more furlough days. 

With hunger, housing insecurity, and debt increasing across the country during the pandemic, this undoubtedly means that some employees will have to choose between rent and food, or between feeding themselves or their children.

Cuts affecting other professions and services in Denver

Cuts in Denver go far beyond the city budget. Colorado’s largest school district, Denver Public Schools, had its budget cut by $724 million by the city’s Joint Budget Committee. This is following an already extremely difficult semester for both teachers and students across the COVID-plagued nation — no doubt these cuts will make things even more challenging. These cuts are impacting the low-paid teachers who fought and went on strike to get pay increases in 2019. 

The Office of Economic Development will also see a diminishing budget. This office oversees job seekers and employers, offers resources to some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, and grants resources for small businesses. 

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, which manages roads and sidewalks as well as garbage and sanitation, in addition to other city services, will see a cut of $20 million, about 15 percent of its budget. 

Finally, with thousands of restaurant workers already out of work in the state, a recent study in Denver predicts that about 33,000 more retail and hospitality workers in the city and surrounding areas could lose their jobs in the coming months.   

The people demand a bailout, the cops deserve not a cent more!

For each of the last 10 years, policing has taken up at least one third of Denver’s city budget. Spending one third of the city’s budget has not created a safer city. In fact, police violence, protests, and even police killings have increased while crime has dropped. 

The reality is that Denver police are robbing city employees, teachers, and workers around the city and the country as they continue to rake in tax dollars. Not only has Colorado — and every other state in the U.S. — failed to meet the needs of the people during this pandemic, they further spit in our faces by ignoring the protests of the last summer and continue to throw money at broken and rotten police departments.

It’s staggering to know that even the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression won’t stop the City of Denver from spending millions on cops. We need money for the people’s needs, not for killer cops and rotten police departments!

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