Police union's dispute with Gary is about public safety...

LETTERS

April 21, 1996

Police union's dispute with Gary is about public safety, not labor power

Your editorial of April 12, titled "Police union's scare tactics," misses the point as badly as does Anne Arundel County Executive John Gary.

The only point it does make is that Mr. Gary could be one of your own editorial writers. The dispute between us is not a labor dispute. It is a dispute over public safety. It is a dispute over Mr. Gary's plan, which could force about 130 senior, experienced police officers into retirement and consequently weaken the county's ability to fight crime and protect its citizens. It is about a plan which could render Anne Arundel unsafe. If the county fails in its most basic of functions, the safety and security of its citizens, then it fails completely.

As police officers, we are sworn to protect our fellow citizens. We take our oath to safeguard their lives, property and well-being seriously. That same oath includes fighting politicians who would jeopardize public safety. The undisputed fact in this debate is that in addition to other crime categories there were more murders, robberies and car thefts last year right here in the county.

Mr. Gary's focus should not be solely on the increase of new police officers, but more so, on keeping our current, experienced county officers in employment. Retaining these highly trained, seasoned and experienced police officers is the best way to ensure that we continue to ensure the protection and safety of residents. Those senior officers are the foundation for experience and training for younger officers. Without the benefit of experience and first-hand knowledge, policing can become a matter of trial and error for those still learning. Sometimes, it's a fatal education.

Increasing the number of police officers to our department is appreciated but is only one attempt to deal with the rising crime rates. A planning report of the county police department projects that a minimum of 38 new officers must be added each year through 2010 just to keep up with the projected increase in population and calls for service.

Although Mr. Gary added police officers last year, he didn't add enough. Nor will his projected addition of 20 more for the next fiscal year be enough. And, of course, if 130 officers retire, we'll have a lot more to worry about than simply keeping pace.

However, public safety seems not to be of concern to Mr. Gary. His plan to reduce current senior police officers' salaries and pensions threatens all of our safety. It could force about 130 senior officers into retirement just to protect their current pension benefits, which took at least 20 years to earn with the expectation that they would be there upon election to retire. He is also including changes to the pension benefits of police officers who have already retired. This usurpation of the pension system will not go unchallenged. Mr. Gary notes the thousands of applicants for current police officer openings. Additionally, he has stated that more than 100 applicants have transferred to our department over the years from other jurisdictions. He states that we have no problem recruiting applicants. I agree with him completely, and concur with these truths. But these applicants and transferred officers came here under the current pay and benefits structure, not the proposed one. Only time will tell what we'll end up with under Mr. Gary's new plan.

If these truths are scare tactics, then I guess we are all scared of the truth. You say this "insults the taxpayers' intelligence." But it is the taxpayers' intelligence that we rely upon to see truth. Mr. Gary is willing to gamble your safety on what he believes is a slim possibility of about 130 police officers retiring and others transferring. Are you?

Dennis P. Howell

Crownsville

The writer is president of Anne Arundel County's Maryland Lodge 70 of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Redistricting no feud between rich and poor

Andrea F. Siegel's article, "Plans for 2 Schools Concerns Parents," which appeared in The Sun for Anne Arundel March 27, addressed the supposed discord between Chesapeake Bay Middle School and George Fox Middle School parents regarding the redistricting issue.

I was both stunned by the emphasis of Ms. Siegel's article and personally appalled at the quote attributed to me. A letter to the editor by Colleen Johnson, which appeared in The Sun for Anne Arundel on April 7, compels me to write to clarify the matter for her and the other readers of the article.

Ms. Siegel contacted me the evening before her article appeared, in an effort to find out the general feelings of Chesapeake Bay Middle School parents toward the redistricting issue. I spent the better part of a 20-minute telephone interview explaining to her that I was not getting strong feelings in any direction from CBMS parents, and that those who did express concern were primarily parents of sixth-grade students.

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