Progressive Denver Mayor To Cut Police Funding to Pay for ‘Newcomers’ Amid Migrant Crisis

By: Alex Trent | Published: Apr 15, 2024

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston announced a new budget proposal last week that would provide more than nearly $90 million in funding for assistance services that help migrant arrivals in the city, which Johnston calls “newcomers.”

This funding is made possible in part by a reallocation of police and fire department resources, which will reportedly result in budget cuts for these and other government organizations.

Police Budget

Reportedly, the new budget changes proposed by Mayor Johnston would result in the police budget being stripped by $8.4 million. Johnston claims that his proposal was the best option to fund services for incoming migrants.

A police officer walking through the glass door of a building.

Source: Logan Weaver/Unsplash

The $90 million allocation for assisting migrant newcomers will also be drawn from a $45 million fund that is primarily used for other public programs and services. 

Managing Cuts

Newsweek reports that the Denver Police budget will make these cuts primarily by not hiring new recruits to fill currently open positions at the department. The proposed $8.4 million budget cut represents 1.9 percent of the Department’s total budget.

An overhead view of the city of Denver during the day.

Source: Action Crawford/Unsplash

Johnston spokesperson Jordan Fuja asserts that the “adjustment to the Denver Police Department’s budget was carefully crafted with safety leaders and Mayor Johnston to ensure there would be no impact to the department’s public services.”

Law Enforcement Morale

Last year, The Colorado Sun reported that Denver police have already been struggling to find recruits as officer turnover rates have been steadily increasing in recent years. 

An SUV belonging to the Denver Sheriff's Department.

Source: Xnatedawgx/Wikimedia

A staffing shortage at the Denver Sheriff’s Department has hurt morale, forced deputies to work longer hours, and take on more mandatory overtime. The Sheriff’s department will reportedly be receiving a 2.2% budget cut.

911 Operators

9 News reports that 911 operators in Denver will now have to be paid differently to save the city money. According to the report, the city use a “911 trust fund” that will pay operators for their services in 2024.

An up-close look at the blue lights on top of a police vehicle.

Source: Max Fleischmann/Unsplash

It’s unclear how this fund will save the city money in the new budget.

Pushing Back Against Defunding Narrative

In an email statement to Newsweek, spokesperson Fuja pushed back against claims from critics that Denver is defunding the police.

Denver police officers riding on bikes.

Source: Regroce/Wikimedia

“To say that Denver is ‘defunding the police’ is a willful mischaracterization of the budget adjustments, which actually just delays the purchase of new furniture and shifts the funding source for one cadet class,” said Fuja.


Johnston’s Comments

During a press conference, Mayor Johnston expressed hope that this budget allocation will help Denver overcome the financial challenges created by an influx of migrants into the city.

An apartment complex seen in Denver, Colorado.

Source: Xnatedawgx/Wikimedia

“After more than a year of facing this crisis together, Denver finally has a sustainable plan for treating our newcomers with dignity while avoiding the worst cuts to city services,” Johnston said.


Compassionate Budget

Johnston views these cuts as necessary to give incoming migrants dignity during their stay in Denver while protecting the financial future of the city.

A bridge containing a roadway for travelers in Denver, Colorado.

Source: Jakob Rosen/Unsplash

“So many times we were told that we couldn’t be compassionate while still being fiscally responsible. Today is proof that our hardest challenges are still solvable, and that together we are the ones who will solve them,” said Johnston.


Top Destination

Denver has become one of the country’s top destinations for migrants. The city, with a population of only 710,000 has struggled with the influx of 40,000 recent migrants in 2023. Denver has the highest per capita of migrants of any US city.

A look at the highest buildings in Denver, Colorado.

Source: Acton Crawford/Unsplash

Its shelters were quickly overwhelmed by migrants entering, causing the city’s shelter system to fill up. Around half of the migrants who arrived since December 2022 stayed in city-funded hotel rooms.


Budget for Migrants

In January, Mike Johnston said that he predicted the city would need to allocate 10 percent of its 2024 budget just to address the needs of the migrant population.

The ambulance entrance to Denver Health Medical Center.

Source: Xnatedawgx/Wikimedia

Denver Health, one of the city’s hospitals said in late January that unpaid medical bills wracked up by migrants have cost them $10 million.


Asking For Help

Denver Health and other “safety net” hospitals have been asking for aid for a while.

An empty hospital corridor with a gurney on the right side, indicating preparedness for patient transport

Source: Miguel Ausejo/Unsplash

“I think it’s been an unheeded call so far in terms of who’s going to be responsible for the health care of this population,” Dr. Steven Federico of Denver Health said in January. “In the meantime, it falls on safety net hospitals like Denver Health.”


Mayor’s Office Cut the Most

The government agency that will be receiving the largest cut percentage is the mayor’s office. Johnston’s proposal will cut 9.6% of his office’s budget, totaling $335,155.

A photograph of current Denver Mayor Mike Johnston.

Source: CBdenver/Wikimedia

Reportedly, Johnston’s office plans to make the budget cuts by saving on services and supplies, as well as not filling vacant staffing positions.