Calling it a "civil defense message," Anne Arundel's police union launched a radio advertising campaign yesterday pointedly accusing County Executive John G. Gary of undermining public safety.
"For John Gary, it's not about public safety. To Gary, it's merely about dollars and cents," the 60-second commercial begins. "But it is about public safety. Your safety. Maybe even your life. Under Anne Arundel County Executive John Gary, crime's up in nearly every category.
"You're no longer as safe at local malls and shopping centers," it continues. "John Gary's solution? Slash police salaries and benefits."
Mr. Gary, the first county executive in six years to add police officers when he hired 24 last year, called the commercial a misleading "union scare tactic" that reflects badly on its members.
Police Department statistics show that violent crime in Anne Arundel dropped in the last year.
"This is a strategy to strike fear in the public's heart," said Mr. Gary, who said he plans to hire 20 more officers this year. "In reality, they are criticizing their own work force. This is not police officers speaking, but union leaders trying to get re-elected to their posts."
The radio spot includes Mr. Gary's office phone number. Lisa Ritter, Mr. Gary's spokeswoman, said his office received two phone calls prompted by the commercial yesterday.
The commercial, broadcast on three metropolitan area radio stations, is a response to Mr. Gary's proposals to change the county police pension system and extend the time it takes officers to reach the top of the pay scale. Most of the proposed changes would affect only new officers.
At the top of the pay scale, Anne Arundel police earn 3 percent less than the median salary of Baltimore metropolitan area officers, according to the 1995 Local Government Salary Survey. Union leaders have said Arundel wageswill drive officers away and thwart recruiting efforts, although the county received more than 1,400 applications for the last vacancy.
Police are not the only county employees feeling pinched by county belt-tightening. Anne Arundel's 3,500-member work force will not receive raises for the third consecutive year as Mr. Gary clamps down on personnel costs, which account for 75 percent of county spending.
The commercial, which will run for at least two weeks, begins as labor talks between the administration and the 700-member Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 70, go to federal arbitration after weeks at impasse.
A federal mediator is scheduled to hear the case Wednesday, and file a report with Mr. Gary's office by April 20. An arbitration ruling is nonbinding in Maryland, and a final contract will probably be determined by the County Council.
The commercial is airing on two AM talk-radio stations -- WBAL in Baltimore and WTOP in Washington -- and on WQSR-FM in Baltimore. Dennis P. Howell, president of Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 70, said it will run twice an hour on each station -- a substantial and expensive media buy.
WBAL, for example, charges between $150 and $500 for each minute-long commercial, depending on the time it airs. That translates to a cost of between $33,600 and $96,000 for WBAL advertising alone. The New York City advertising firm Austin-Sheinkopf wrote the spot and advised union leaders on how much radio time to buy. The company, known nationally for its work for police unions, has written similar commercials for Baltimore, Baltimore County and Prince George's County police.
The commercial warns Anne Arundel residents that "some of our most experienced police officers are leaving." Mr. Howell said that 130 officers are eligible for retirement. He said many have been checking their accrued benefits, preparing to leave before the administration changes the pension system.
"The public should be scared," Mr. Howell said. "If these employees leave, it's going to be a force of inexperienced officers."
The commercial cites two of four categories that make up "violent crime" statistics to make the case that crime is rising. Most dramatically, the commercial says homicides jumped 46 percent.
However, overall violent crime declined 1.2 percent last year. While homicide and robbery increased -- as the commercial notes -- rape and aggravated assault dropped substantially.
And "personal robberies" -- the category that includes parking lot theft at local malls -- dropped 14 percent in the last year.
Pub Date: 4/11/96