By Daniel J. Chacon
The Rocky Mountain News
DENVER, Colo. — After the biggest hiring push in the Denver Police Department's history, the city is dealing with an unexpected circumstance: too many cops on the payroll.
The city, which has hired 516 police recruits since 2003, has about 65 more men and women in uniform than were factored -into the 2007 budget, because fewer than anticipated have retired or left.
The staffing levels are forcing the department to request $2.5 million from Denver's contingency reserve — a fund to cover unexpected expenses — to pay for officer salaries.
"You want to get as close to the authorized strength as possible, but you don't want to fall below," Ed Scholz, the city's acting budget director, said Monday. "We err on the side of being conservative, rather than going under and having less police officers on the street than we have budgeted."
Denver isn't alone.
Planning for attrition has pushed the Aurora Police Department over its authorized strength at times, too, Detective Shannon Lucy said.
"You don't wait until people are gone and then try to hire," Lucy said.
"You look at, over a period of time, what you might expect due to the age of officers, how long they've been here," she said. "You have to do some sort of planning ahead."
Denver's immediate plans include fewer new recruits.
Earl Peterson, executive director of Denver's Civil Service Commission, said that the next police academy in January is for 20 people.
"It's the smallest one that I've had since I've been with the city for six years," he said. "Normally, the academies run 34 to 36."
Thirty-seven recruits attended the last academy, Peterson said.
Before that, there were six academies with 52 people each, he said.
"That was the biggest hiring push in the history of the department," he said. "It was unprecedented."
Mel Thompson, the city's deputy manager of safety, said that Denver police went through a hiring freeze and have been catching up.
No officers were hired in 2002 because of budget constraints.
After Mayor John Hickenlooper was elected in 2003, he approved a single police academy with 25 officers at the end of that year, but the department was still about 100 officers below the budgeted level, Thompson said.
Between 2004 and 2006, "the city started aggressively hiring more police officers and actually hired slightly more than what was retiring and leaving," he said.
"From the public standpoint, it's a great thing," he added.
Thompson, who used to be Denver's budget director, said the department plans to start bringing the number down next year.
But the department is still expected to be over staffed, according to the city's 2008 budget.
Denver police numbers:
1,447 officers is the authorized strength of the Denver Police Department
1,512 officers is the actual number of the force
$2.5 million requested from the city's contingency reserve to pay for officer salaries
$101 million budgeted in 2008 for the salaries of uniformed officers
Copyright 2007 Rocky Mountain News
The thick blue line? Denver PD has 65 more officers than budgeted