Cop Shop Contest

The FOP And TPOA Face Another Fight Over Who'll Speak For Tucson Police Officers.

By Dave Devine

IN AN ELECTION held nearly three years ago, the Tucson Police Officers Association wrestled union representation rights for City of Tucson cops away from the Fraternal Order of Police. Now the FOP wants a rematch.

In the first contest, the two groups argued over the issue of police salaries, as well as support--or lack thereof--for officers accused of wrongdoing. The TPOA charged that for 25 years the FOP had not been aggressive enough about demanding higher pay; the majority of voting officers agreed with them.

The results surprised many in City Hall, who had naively believed Tucson cops were generally satisfied with their pay. TPOA President Richard Anemone had a message for the City Council: It was time to cut fat out of the city's budget and set different spending priorities, starting with higher pay for police officers.

Currents Since then, TPOA representatives have driven home the pay issue. They've privately lobbied the Council and, last year, even got a measure directed at salaries and negotiating issues on the city ballot. (Voters rejected the proposition.) More recently, TPOA took out a large newspaper ad to ask Tucsonans whether they thought it was more important to spend tax money on public safety or a proposed new city hall.

Despite its efforts, TPOA hasn't succeeded in gaining the raises it sought.

In May, Council members Fred Ronstadt and Jerry Anderson did support higher pay for patrol officers, along with those who'd been with the department for several years. That effort failed when the other five Council members opposed the move.

That attitude, however, may soon change. Council members besides Ronstadt and Anderson are now talking about the need to increase the pay of public safety personnel at a higher rate than that for other city employees.

Despite its failure to win pay hikes, the TPOA has left its mark with its aggressive advocacy for salary increases.

So why does the Fraternal Order of Police want another crack at the TPOA? Rick Houden, president of FOP Lodge No. 1, wouldn't comment. "We don't want mudslinging," he says, "and will keep our differences in-house."

But Houden did confirm that on January 4 the FOP will turn in the few hundred petition signatures required to force a new union representation election. The City Council will then set a springtime date for the vote.

Mike Braun, a TPOA board member, says he doesn't know why the FOP is seeking another ballot-box battle. He complains that in the past the FOP hasn't supported TPOA's efforts. But at the same time, he said, the FOP has taken positions which reflect 100 percent of the TPOA platform.

"Except that the FOP says our relationship with city officials isn't working," says Braun. "And it isn't right now. It isn't working because we're standing up for the officers. Officers shouldn't be ashamed to ask for higher salaries. We know the public is behind us. Eventually the City Council will recognize that."

Braun insists the TPOA won't back down from its position that Tucson cops should be paid considerably more. He also confirmed the group is working to place another ballot initiative before the voters next year. According to Braun, it will be simpler than the last unsuccessful one and directed only at officers' salaries.

As for TPOA's ads about whether public safety or public buildings are more important, Braun said the union understands there are competing interests for tax money. He says the group was just doing what other groups who want public funds do.

Braun confidently predicts TPOA will defeat the FOP in the spring election. "We've worked hard for the officers," he says, "and will continue to do so."

Membership in TPOA is about 460 on-duty officers. The FOP has 700 members, but that includes retirees. As was shown in 1996, those numbers don't mean much when it comes to winning the city's police union representation election. What counts is the opinion of Tucson's cops. TW

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