There is no statewide collective bargaining law for police in Colorado. As such, local jurisdictions bargaining with police unions – if they do so at all – act under local charter or ordinance provisions. Denver’s charter contains one of the longest-standing grants of bargaining rights. The charter is limited, however, as to what topic must be negotiated.
It was against this backdrop that a trial court considered whether the City was required to bargain over the imposition of a body-worn camera (BWC) system in the Denver Police Department. The Court began by rejecting the argument made by the Denver Police Protective Association that BWC systems fit within the “hours of work” provision of the Charter. The Association argued that because the use of the cameras could result in an officer working beyond the hours required absent the BWCs, the additional work may cause the officer to incur overtime which would result in an alteration of the workweek. The Association cited the requirement that off-duty officers working secondary jobs wear the cameras as an example of both modification of the workweek terms and as affecting compensation.
The Court was unconvinced, noting that “the contract has never included more than the setting of the normal work cycle as the number of hours in the workweek, nor has it ever included the type of work officers do that makes up the hours in the workweek as part of that definition, and the Court will not apply a new definition now. These traditional understandings of the meaning of the phrase the number of hours in the workweek are particularly significant because the conduct of the parties before any dispute arose between them is an indication of what they intended the contract to mean, and by extension the Charter as well. The Court declines to subject the language of ‘the number of hours in the workweek’ to a strained or forced interpretation.”
The Association fared better in arguing that body-cams fell within the Charter’s definition of “personal health and safety equipment.” The Court found it “particularly significant that the BWC Policy itself highlights a safety dimension to the use of body cameras in its Purposes section. Although the Policy makes clear that, in general, BWCs are intended to serve as additional means of documenting specific incidences in the field, the safety purpose is explicitly included among five specific uses of the BWCs. As the Policy states: Specific uses of the BWC include potentially confrontational interactions with members of the public through the presence of BWCs.
“Read together, the acknowledged safety purpose is no more and no less important than capturing crimes in progress and documenting police interactions with the public and response to crimes, and inextricably bound up with the evidence preservation purpose. This explicit acknowledgement of a safety dimension to BWCs is in line with recognized continuums of the appropriate use of force by police officers, which include the deterrent effect of a command presence. One need only reflect upon the fact that motorists notoriously become scrupulously observant of speed limits and other traffic laws in those areas of a highway where a police patrol car is visible, to recognize the deterrent effect of a command presence.
“The Court concludes that BWCs are a unique piece of equipment with a significant safety dimension integral to their purpose, despite arguably being secondary to their evidence gathering purposes, and therefore qualify as ‘personal safety and health equipment’ within the meaning of the Charter.” The Court ordered the City to bargain over the introduction of BWCs.
Denver Police Protective Association v. City of Denver, No. 15CV33862 (Colo. Dist. Ct. 2016).