Police salaries and benefits have become a hot-button issue. On one side, cities are requesting that officers take what most industries would consider minor cuts in benefits to avoid layoffs. On the other side, police unions are fighting back with everything they have to avoid any concessions. Police officers and unions will attest to the numerous times they accepted smaller salary increases by percentage from cash-strapped cities, with the carrot dangled in front of them that they would be rewarded with better-than-average benefits and retirement.
During the last year, some cities have had to do the unthinkable: lay off police officers. Camden and Newark, NJ, two extremely dangerous cities, had to lay off police when supplementary funds from the state were no longer available due to a budget shortfall. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, states that hundreds of corrections and police officers will have to be laid off because the county commissioners voted against taking more pay out of officers’ salaries for health coverage. This includes the families of fallen police officers in that jurisdiction.
Public vilification of unions has become commonplace recently. Some leaders are citing unions as greedy, attempting to blame union members for all budgetary ills. Have some union pay scales become inflated in a difficult economy? Probably. However, not all police officers are even members of a union; many states in the South do not have union representation at all.
Do budgets have to be balanced? Do we finally have to stop kicking the can down the road? Clearly we do, but not at the expense of public safety personnel, especially law enforcement members who go to work every day and have people try to kill them.
Florida had the largest number of police officers killed in the line of duty in the United States in 2011. Mayor Gimenez has some strange timing on his request. Dead cops leave wives and children behind. In Miami Dade County is it really fair to ask Debbie Castillo, wife of slain Miami cop Roger Castillo, to pay more for health insurance? Haven’t Debbie and her children paid enough?
Budgets do indeed need to be balanced. Can some proposed layoffs be accomplished through attrition? Can departments save money by using decals on cars instead of painting the cars? The average savings per police car in my area is $800. Multiply that amount in a large department and the savings are significant. Perhaps income to the city through fines and tickets can be increased.
What about health incentives to reduce medical costs? Can officers be encouraged to stay in shape, avoid smoking and alcohol and take other measures designed to reduce the cost of providing coverage for all? Can experts review all departmental positions to determine if some of them can be performed by civilian employees or contractors? Can incentives be offered to reduce sick time by rewarding additional vacation, resulting in a net gain for a department?
Some departments have been successful in spreading the same weekly patrol hours into 12 hour shifts, keeping more officers on the street with less on the payroll. Other departments supplement regular paid officers with auxiliary forces. Although many unionized police officers are not comfortable with this option, other non-unionized departments are glad to have fully-trained and armed volunteer officers on staff.
Let’s get even more radical. In my area of Virginia, there are 7 sister cities which together compose a population of 1 million people. What would happen if the police departments combined, eliminating a number of senior management positions, but retaining the same force level? In Westchester County, NY, numerous smaller departments could also combine, eliminating senior supervisory redundancy.
In Portsmouth, VA, many Sheriff’s Department vehicles have been provided using funds from property taken under drug seizure laws and sold at auction. Could this concept be enhanced in other communities to cover the costs to put drug dealers behind bars?
Getting back to Miami, has anyone gone through the entire city budget to look for frivolous and unnecessary expenditures, pet projects of county commissioners which would be better spent in providing public safety?
Balancing the budget on the backs of police officers and the families of fallen officers is totally unacceptable. Tourists will not wish to come to the Miami area in the mayhem which will ensue when public safety budgets and personnel cuts are enacted. This era calls for wise, creative, out-of-the-box leaders who will look for innovative economies of scale and other unique ways to save money. Asking for even more sacrifices from police and the families of the fallen is wrong. Is Mayor Gimenez paying 5 % more for his health insurance? Has he taken a pay cut? Maybe we should start cutting there.
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