Officers' pay said to be uncompetitive Arundel pays less than neighboring agencies, study says

'Do we have a future?'

Proposed changes in union contract decried by police

March 25, 1996|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,SUN STAFF

The longer they stay on the force, the less Anne Arundel County police officers make compared with their counterparts in nearby jurisdictions. Although Anne Arundel's starting salary is higher, after five years other counties catch up and surpass its pay. And after 25 years, its officers make an average of 22 percent less than officers elsewhere, according to a union study.

The study by Dr. Amy McCarthy, an economist hired by the Fraternal Order of Police, shows that. after 16 years, the salaries of officers in Arundel are $15,457 lower than in Prince George's County. After 20 years, Arundel officers make less than those in Baltimore, Howard and Prince George's counties and in Baltimore.

Dr. McCarthy's study surveyed eight large police departments in Maryland and Virginia, including Arlington and the Maryland State Police, and compared their salaries for officers with those of Arundel. At the 25th year, the median salary in those departments -- $49,258 -- is $10,855 higher than in Arundel.

The pay disparities are leading officers to look for work elsewhere, said Dennis Howell, president of FOP Lodge 70, which represents about 500 county officers.

"I'm being called and asked, 'Where are they hiring? Should I go? Are they taking lateral officers? Do we have a future?' " Mr. Howell said.

Meanwhile, the county personnel office has proposed changes in the police union's contract that union leaders say would make their pay even less competitive.

The proposals would stretch the time it takes an officer to reach the top of the salary scale from 16 years to 18 years, require new officers to work 25 years before they can retire with benefits, instead of 20 years, and change the way pension funds are invested.

Mr. Howell said that officers are afraid they would lose their retirement checks if the investment change went sour in any single year and that the other changes represent a slap in the face to his membership.

E. Hilton Wade, the county personnel officer, said the changes are necessary to avert a financial crisis.

"If we don't take some step to cut costs now, we would not be able to do some things we want to do in the future," he said. "We've got this tax cap that puts pressure on us, and we can't raise revenues. We have to do more with less."

But officers say they can barely support their families with the money they make now.

"You can't work this job and go home and that's all you do," said one eight-year veteran who asked not to be named. "You can't support your wife and kids and make a mortgage payment on this money."

A recent poll of FOP members showed that officers in On Wednesday, Officer Michael Belcher, who runs overtime scheduling for the department's light-rail patrol, held a session at the Cromwell station to enable officers to sign up for patrol shifts in April. About 75 officers, 30 in marked patrol cars, began lining up 2 1/2 hours early for a chance to choose four dates for the four-hour shifts.

"It's the only thing that's there to keep our heads above the

water financially," Mr. Howell said.

"Secondary employment is our surviving grace right now. That's our only hope for economic survival."

Pub Date: 3/25/96

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