What Does The Phoenix Police Union Want In A New Contract?

By Christina Estes
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2019 - 5:05am
Updated: Friday, March 1, 2019 - 9:01am

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Christina Estes/ KJZZ
According to Phoenix police, the department had 3,388 sworn officers at it peak in 2008. The number of sworn officers provided to KJZZ in February 2019 was 2,993.

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The union representing Phoenix police officers is negotiating with the city for a new three-year contract. While talks focus on the future, the past remains in the present.

The Past

On May 7, 2014, the Phoenix City Council chambers were packed with police officers and their supporters.

The city manager had said Phoenix could balance its budget without cutting services if all employees accepted cuts. The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, known as PLEA, argued its members should be spared because officers have dangerous jobs and the department was on its fifth year of a hiring freeze.

By a 5-4 vote, the council forced a contract on PLEA. It was the first time in Phoenix history leaders imposed a contract on one of its labor unions

Ken Crane was PLEA’s vice president at the time.

“So, we’re not hiring, we’re taking pay and benefit cuts,” he said. “This has a net result of demoralizing your police department and your patrol force, OK? And people start looking for greener pastures.”

phoenix police cost graphic
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ

When Crane was elected PLEA president in 2015, Phoenix was down 646 officers from its peak of 3,388 in 2008. The latest numbers from the department show Phoenix is 132 sworn officers short of its goal of 3,125.

Crane said spending more on public safety can pay off with lower crime rates.

“What does that gain for you?” Ken Crane says, “People want to move here: it’s a good city, it’s a safe city. Businesses want to locate here: it’s a good city, it’s a safe city. And the weather’s pretty good too, right? It naturally is going to build and expand your tax base. One follows the other in this progression.”

The Present

The city’s human resources department says salary, benefits and equipment for a first-year officer total $111,000. Costs for a second-year officer total $114,149.

Neither side will comment on specific wage and benefit requests during negotiations, but PLEA President Mike "Britt" London said they’d like to see officers wearing body cameras get a 5 percent hourly increase.

“It’s already a hazardous job,” he said. “So, you’re wearing this body camera that a defense lawyer can take snippets of it and use it against you incorrectly. An officer that is wearing a body camera is different than an officer that is not because of some of the realities that could come with the video captured but also they are, you know, they have to take extra time to download the camera, there are kind of a different set of rules on an officer that is wearing it.”

During recent council meetings some residents, like Maria Sanchez, have criticized the idea of paying officers more for wearing cameras.

“This is absolutely wrong and it’s unacceptable that we are going to be trying to push this forward without even going to the community and talking to them about this,” she said.

Another proposal would eliminate anonymous complaints against officers. Instead, PLEA wants people to sign a complaint acknowledging it’s illegal to make a false statement.

Luke Black, a frequent police critic, told council members it’s a way to keep the public from holding police accountable.

head and shoulders of PLEA president
Kendall Fessenden
Mike "Britt" London is president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.

“By giving police access to who is accusing them you open up the possibility for potential retaliation,” he said.

London said they want to save officers from the stress of internal investigations sparked by false complaints.

“We understand that a complaint has to be looked at- anonymous or not,” he said. “But, something that is of a serious nature, an accusation, we need those people to come in and make a statement. You know, they may end up signing an affidavit if it went to court. So we would like to, so to speak, make them have some skin in the game, not just know they can make a frivolous complaint and nothing happens to them.”

The Future

About 700 officers are currently eligible to retire. London said it’s important to not only attract new officers, but keep experienced ones.

“A veteran officer can probably take care of a situation, and I’m quoting this out of some magazine I read, but about three times faster than an inexperienced officer can,” he said. “So, that’s a benefit to the community.”

Crane pointed to a copy of PLEA’s 134-page proposal and said, “This is what allows us to recruit and retain good, quality people."

Among other things, the proposal asks for increases in tuition reimbursement and hourly pay for working nights and weekends. The union and the city have until May to reach an agreement.

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