AURORA, CO – By a 6-to-1 margin, Aurora’s police union agreed to scrap the city’s controversial police-staffing mandate last week.
After aggressively defending the mandate of two officers for every 1,000 residents for the past 18 years, the Aurora Police Association’s overwhelming support for the deal could be seen as a surprise.
But APA President Mark Finnin said he wasn’t surprised at all that officers came out so strongly in favor of a plan that will likely mean fewer officers on the street.
“If you had asked me a week ago, maybe I would be,” he said after the votes were counted Aug. 26.
Finnin visited several shift change briefings, explaining the change to officers and lobbying on behalf of a “yes” vote. By the time ballots went out Aug. 24, Finnin said he was confident the union backed the new plan.
“The association members’ strong support shows their willingness to partner. This demonstrates that our teams can come together to find a solution that benefits both sides and residents,” he said in a statement announcing the vote.
Mayor Ed Tauer lauded the union for the vote.
“I’m thrilled at the overwhelming response. It shows that the city and the officers can work together to provide great public safety at a time of tough budgets. Today is about teamwork,” he said.
The vote came after a whirlwind week that saw City Council back a plan on Aug. 22 to ask voters to raise taxes for 2-per-1,000 or scrap it altogether, then call a special meeting Aug. 26 to scrap the ballot question and ask APA to approve a new plan.
In the days between, Finnin and council members met regularly, hammering out the details of the plan.
The plan would save the city about $40 million over the next decade but it might also mean about 10 percent fewer cops on the street.
Under the plan, city council would no longer tie police staffing to the total population. Instead, council set the current staffing level of 658 officers as the mandatory floor. For any new growth before 2021, the city will add 1.6 officers for every 1,000 residents. In 2021, the city would add officers at a 1.9-per-1,000 rate.
The plan also changes the way the city projects its annual population. Aurora will now use a three-year average instead of an annual estimate, and new officers would only be added in odd-numbered years.
According to the city’s estimates, in 2013, when the population is about 341,000 people, the department will add 15 officers, bringing the staff to 673.
If 2-per-1,000 had stayed intact, Jason Batchelor, the city’s budget director, said Aurora would have to add 32 officers in 2012 because of new U.S. Census figures. Aurora would also have added another 12 in 2013, putting the 2-per-1,000 staffing level at 702 in 2013, 29 more officers than what’s called for in the new plan.
By 2021, the city’s estimates call for 800 officers under 2-per-1,000 and 713 under the new plan — a difference of about 10 percent.
The plan also calls for $2,000 bonuses for officers, doled out in $5000 increments twice a year in 2012 and 2013.
The impetus for the complicated plan seemed to be the proposed ballot question, which the APA didn’t want to see reach the ballot.