8 of 16 laid-off officers return to work

Arundel executive had cut jobs over tight budget

November 25, 2003|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Eight of the 16 Anne Arundel County police officers who were laid off by County Executive Janet S. Owens in June have accepted offers to return to the department, a police spokesman said yesterday.

The returning officers were recently sworn in for a second time, and many have resumed the patrols that they left behind in early July.

"They've made a good business decision," police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan said of the officers. "Putting everything that's happened aside, this is still a great place to work."

This past summer, Owens became the only county administrator in Maryland to lay off police officers to close a budget gap. Shanahan delivered pink slips to all but five officers in the recruit class that graduated April 2.

The move was expected to save the county about $1 million this fiscal year, which began July 1. Owens said the savings was needed to help fund pay increases that the County Council unexpectedly approved - over her objections - in June.

Holding the officers' positions vacant for the past four months saved the county about $400,000 in unpaid salaries and benefits, county officials estimated. But because only eight of the 16 officers returned, the county still lost half of the $800,000 it had invested in training the officers.

"This was never about money," said O'Brien Atkinson, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police. "They weren't fired for legitimate reasons."

The union viewed the terminations as retribution. A year ago, voters approved legislation that allowed police and firefighters to use binding arbitration during contract negotiations. And last spring, public safety unions persuaded enough County Council members to block a pay-freeze measure recommended by Owens.

Owens disputed the claims. After initially blaming the two council members who had derailed her pay freeze, she later said the layoffs represented the "hardest decision" she had ever had to make.

All but two of the laid-off officers quickly accepted positions in other area police agencies, including the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and the Annapolis Police Department.

Of the eight who returned to Anne Arundel County, six had been employed by the transportation authority police, one had been with the Greenbelt Police Department and one, who was injured during training, had been unemployed.

A spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority declined to comment on losing the six officers.

Of the eight who chose not to return, two are with the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission's police department, one is pursuing a master's degree in Pennsylvania and one each remain with the following police agencies: state transportation authority, Annapolis, Montgomery County, Baltimore County and Greenbelt.

Explaining his decision to stay put, Annapolis police Officer David Stokes said the 135-officer city department opened its arms to him when he had just been laid off by the county - a time when his wife was nine months pregnant. "I really thought a lot about the offer to come back," he said. "But I decided I would have a hard time doing to Annapolis what Anne Arundel County did to me."

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