Has The FOP Grown Fat And Lazy When It Comes To Representing Tucson Police Officers?
By Dave Devine
A LONG-STANDING internal feud within the Tucson Police Department will be the central issue in a police union election on Tuesday, April 16. But whether a decision on representation for officers will resolve the intense feelings within the department remains to be seen.
The vote next week will decide which of two groups will represent officers in contract negotiations and other issues. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has been the recognized union for years, but it's now being challenged by the aggressive membership of the Tucson Police Officers Association (TPOA).
Some of the factors that divide the two groups have split the department since Elaine Hedtke was appointed Chief of Police in 1992. These issues include the alleged cozy relationship between the FOP and Police Department and city management, the failure of the FOP in the eyes of some to speak out on behalf of officers accused of misconduct, and the lack of consistent pay raises.
David Holaway, spokesman for TPOA, has said his group believes officers need stronger representation with both the department and the media. He cited a 1993 example in which a Mexican teenager raised allegations of brutality by TPD officers.
In that case, two officers were taken off active duty by Chief Hedtke even before a preliminary investigation of the allegations was conducted. Current members of TPOA helped organize a public rally in support of the officers. Eventually, no charges were brought against them.
Hedtke's handling of that case and other issues became a major controversy which eventually led to a vote of "no confidence" in her job performance by hundreds of officers.
At the time, some within the department complained the FOP did nothing for the accused officers. Others said it was only hotheads within the department creating the divisiveness.
These disagreements intensified when then-FOP president Mike Bouchard was criticized by fellow officers for apparently negotiating with Hedtke during the brouhahah. Bouchard, however, denied at the time that there was a split in the FOP, even though angry officers engaged in a shouting match outside TPD headquarters.
The FOP's view of current differences in the department is unavailable, since current union president Steve Kendall did not return numerous phone calls. If he had, he could have given his group's views on the relationship between labor and management in the Police Department, as well as the FOP's position on salary issues. Also, he could have confirmed or denied whether he signed the petition calling for this election.
A second difference between the FOP and TPOA involves who will be able to belong to the union. Holaway said command staff can join the FOP now, but added his organization would exclude management-level personal from union membership.
A final issue dividing the two groups, according to Holaway, is the lack of consistent pay raises for officers over the last six to eight years. Other jurisdictions have done better, he says, and the Tucson city government has not followed through with the pledge they once made of guaranteed pay raises.
Holaway added his group would not insist on pay raises during a genuine budget crisis. But, he said, the city's waste of money in hiring consultants or its habit of losing money on annexations would not be considered a budget crisis.
According to a survey of salaries for public safety officers in Arizona for 1994-'95, the average Tucson Police officer made $2,737 a month. This ranked fourteenth out of the 19 jurisdictions surveyed, but was higher than the average salary for a deputy sheriff with Pima County. However, it trailed what the average Arizona Department of Public Safety officer earns by more than $400 a month, according to the survey.
This unrest over pay and labor/management relations was supposed to have been settled shortly after Michael Brown was appointed city manager in 1993. Brown had trouble with unions in his previous job as city manager of Berkeley, California, and he told his staff here he didn't want to repeat the experience.
So, shortly after being hired, Brown transferred Hedtke out of the Police Department. He also pledged to provide substantial pay raises for officers. In fact, the average salary of a TPD officer increased by more than 5 percent from 1994 to 1995, and should have increased by a similar amount in the last year.
These steps, however, didn't satisfy the members of TPOA. In March they submitted hundreds of petition signatures calling for an election over union representation. Balloting will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
City Council members and the City Manager's staff will be very interested in the results. The aggressive approach toward salary increases taken by some TPOA members is not a stance those in City Hall are used to.
Plus, having employees scrutinize spending which takes away from their pay would put the Council and the Manager in a very uncomfortable position. What politician, after all, would want to hear from cops that spending on baseball stadiums is a waste of money?
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