Police approve labor pact

Contract to increase salaries about 17% over 3-year term

On par with other forces

March 08, 2000|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

With paychecks at stake, Anne Arundel County police turned out at a far better rate for a contract vote yesterday than voters choosing U.S. presidential candidates.

A contract that provides a salary increase of about 17 percent over the next three years was overwhelmingly approved by the 57 percent of eligible officers who voted, said Detective Ricardo Hawkins, vice president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70.

"This was more important" than the presidential race, said one officer standing outside the Crownsville FOP lodge wearing an "I voted" sticker given out at primary polls. "This is about being able to feed your family."

In the first year of the contract, officers will see a 7 percent salary increase, followed by 5 percent increases the next two years, Hawkins said.

"The membership seemed very, very happy about it," he said. "It's more than they've seen in a long time."

Last year, police officers received 3 percent raises that were given to all county employees. In 1994 and through 1997, the officers received 1.5 percent annual salary increases, Hawkins said.

As a result, union and county officials agree, Anne Arundel county officers have been paid far less than officers in nearby police departments.

Anne Arundel county officers earn $28,712 to $44,203. In Howard County, officers' salaries range from $33,346 to $56,708, while Maryland State Police troopers earn $35,029 to $52,390.

`A building block'

Though union and county officials say the contract brings the Anne Arundel County police pay scale in line with surrounding jurisdictions, many officers said it was a starting point because nearby departments will likely receive increases in negotiations.

Officer Al Fisher, a seven-year veteran in the Western District, said, "It's better than we had. This is a building block."

"It's acceptable. It's not great," said Eastern District Officer Lee Green. " But I have to give [County Executive Janet S.] Owens credit for being sincere about helping us out."

Green, a 12-year veteran, said he was prepared to leave the force if the county had not offered a significant increase.

The contract reconfigures the pay scale in a way that will increase pension benefits, Green said.

Although the new contract will improve the salary and benefits package across the board, some of the younger officers said they would still be better off in nearby departments.

"I think a lot of people are pleased with the county's offer because the county was at least trying to be fair. But why come here to get beat on in Pasadena every night when you can make more money [in other departments] driving around handing out tickets," said one officer, who asked not to be identified because he said he is trying to join a nearby police force.

But several officers said they were pleased with the three-year contract.

Vote `wasn't even close'

The breakdown of votes was not immediately available, but Hawkins said the contract was clearly supported.

"It wasn't even close," he said.

According to last night's FOP tally, 296 of the 520 eligible members voted.

"Law enforcement is a quality-of-life issue," said Baltimore lawyer Herbert R. Weiner, whose firm was hired by the FOP for the contract talks. "I think the county has recognized that with this contract."

Weiner said the contract restores a uniform cleaning allowance, a weapons allowance and an increase in night differential pay.

Cost to county

The entire package will likely cost the county $3.5 million over the three-year term of the agreement, said Randy Schultz, Anne Arundel County personnel officer.

County officials, who are negotiating labor contracts with six other bargaining units, said they were particularly pleased they had reached a tentative deal with the FOP before the March 15 deadline.

Owens was "delighted" with the vote, her spokesman said last night.

On Friday, county officials will meet with the Sergeants Association, a separate bargaining unit for the 73 police sergeants in the county.

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