Police, union battle over plan to boost city patrols

Move could force officers on light duty to retire

February 05, 2004|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police and union officials are battling over a decision by Commissioner Kevin P. Clark that could force nearly 140 light-duty officers into retirement as a way to get more officers on city streets.

Clark issued his order last month, and it essentially eliminates the categories of permanent light-duty and permanent limited-duty officers from the department. The move is designed to allow injured officers to retire more easily with disability benefits.

Union officials objected to the proposal, saying it should be negotiated as part of the union's contract with the city and could harm injured officers who are working to return to street duty. Union officials filed an unfair labor practice complaint on Jan. 23 with the city's labor commissioner, Sean R. Malone.

"We oppose what is going on," said Agent Dan Fickus, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3.

Union officials expressed particular concern over a proposal in the order that would require officers to return to the streets within a year of a line-of-duty injury or six months of other types of disability, saying the timetable was unfair.

For the last several years, police officials have been trying to reduce the number of officers on medical leave and classified as light-duty workers as a way to boost the strength of patrol units.

By eliminating the category of light-duty, Clark's decision would essentially allow injured officers - who can perform administrative functions but not work on the streets - to retire with full disability benefits.

Currently, the city's pension board denies the retirement requests of injured officers if they can perform administrative duties, such as answering phones or working on computers, because the department has never specifically defined the job of a police officer, Malone said.

The department "will not forget, nor abandon, any of our officers, especially those injured in the line of duty," police spokesman Matt Jablow said.

Malone said city officials would also propose legislation in City Council to allow about 35 of the 140 officers to retire with full benefits by reopening a window for them to approach the pension board. Those officers did not apply to retire with disability benefits within five years of their injury - a requirement under city law, he said.

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