Arundel sees half of laid-off officers return

County executive had cut 16 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.

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