Detroit officials propose plan to boost cop pay

George Hunter and Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
City officials are proposing to extend contracts for the police department’s three unions that would increase officer pay and offer other incentives.

Detroit — City officials on Monday announced a plan that will extend contracts for the police department’s three unions that would increase officer pay and offer other incentives.

The proposal, unveiled during a press conference at Mayor Mike Duggan’s office, would bump starting police officers’ salary from $31,700 to $36,000, effective Jan. 1.

Officers with five years on the job would receive a 4 percent raise, also effective Jan. 1. Another 3 percent raise would kick in July 1, 2019. The city is also offering a $2,000 per year reimbursement on college tuition.

In exchange, the proposal would amend a rule that allows officers to get paid for a full day if they go home sick after working four hours. If adopted, the number of times officers could use the benefit would be capped at once per quarter.

Duggan on Monday said that the agreement is “a statement that we care.” It’s a proposal that has been in the works for about six weeks, he said.

“As we went through bankruptcy, this city lost a lot,” Duggan said. “The men and women in uniform in particular were hit very hard.”

As the city has come out of bankruptcy, Duggan said the one overriding rule is that “we can’t spend money we don’t have.”

“That means out of the Plan of Adjustment, any dollar we want to give for police officer raises has to come from someplace else,” he said. “We can’t run a deficit.”

The city, Duggan said, was able to carve out $41 million to go toward the pay increases over the four years. Among the areas where funding came from was $28 million spared after bankruptcy fees to be paid to consultants were negotiated down. Police Chief James Craig has identified $5 million in operational savings that can be made within the department and go toward the total.

Additionally, $8 million that had been earmarked in the police department’s operating budget for the construction of a new precinct will instead be paid for with capital dollars that had been sitting idle for a decade.

The proposal, which is to be voted on Thursday by the unions, is an effort by the city to stem the exodus of officers. Duggan told The News last week the police department is losing about 15 officers a month.

If it’s adopted, the plan could go before the City Council for a vote Dec. 17 and to Detroit’s Financial Review Commission on Dec. 21, Duggan said.

Police staffing is at historic lows, with the fewest number of police officers, about 1,500, than at any time since the 1920s. There are about 2,500 total people on the force, including ranks other than police officer — less than half the number of the department’s total employees in 1990.

Detroit is having a difficult time recruiting new cops. There are only 14 cadets in the Police Academy, as compared with last year, when Class 2014-B graduated 29 new officers.

In 2013, police pay was cut by 10 percent, with other reductions in benefits. Detroit Police Officer Association President Mark Diaz said the latest proposal, which would extend the DPOA contract by a year, ending in 2020, is an opportunity for members to recoup some of those losses.

“This proposal isn’t the final answer — but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “I’m expecting to have further conversations in improving wages and benefits before the end of this contract.”

Under the plan, DPOA members with a minimum of two years of college would also get a 2 percent raise. Likewise, a 2 percent increase would be provided to Detroit Police Lieutenants and Sergeants Association members with a minimum of four years of college.

Craig said improving the “rock bottom” morale has been among his top priorities since arriving in Detroit two years ago.

“It’s no secret that we’re losing officer after officer to smaller agencies,” he said. “Basic wage increase is critical. We can’t properly police this city without retaining those great officers.”

The department has about 220 open positions and the average attrition rate is about 13 officers a month — or 160 per year, officials said. The department needs to add 381 officers over the next 12 months to have a full police force.

Craig said Detroit has fallen far behind other area police agencies in compensation.

All uniform personnel in Detroit, including firefighters and EMTs, on average earn pay that is about $10,000 less than the suburban counterparts, Duggan added.

Starting pay in Detroit is $31,700, while it’s $43,100 in Southfield, $43,800 in Sterling Heights, $45,800 in Warren and $49,600 in Farmington Hills.

The pay is also on the lower end of major cities in the country. Miami-Dade’s Police Department starts new hires at $50,490, it’s $57,420 in Los Angeles, $47,744 in New York and $52,990 for Cincinnati, Ohio, according to the city websites.

Craig said his goal from here is to focus on potential changes in fire and EMS pay early next year.

Capt. Aric Tosqui, president of the Detroit Police Command Officers Association, also endorsed the proposal.

“We see this as a first step toward compensating our members in a way they deserve,” he said.

Some officers, however, have expressed skepticism of the city’s motives.

“It seems all of a sudden, everyone is pushing for this, and we haven’t had much time to process it,” said Detroit Police Sgt. Tom Grzywacz of the 7th Precinct. “The quick nature of this makes you want to step back and ask why.”

Tosqui and Diaz said the contract doesn’t close the door on future negotiations.

“The mayor has specifically stated that the door remains open throughout the remainder of our contracts for more improved wages and benefits, should the city continue to rebound,” Tosqui said.

Duggan said there’s no specific provision for reopening the contract, but the parties can always agree to do so.

“My commitment to every one of the employees of this city is as the city’s finances improve they shared in the downside, they should share in the upside,” he said. “But we can’t spend a single dollar we don’t have.”

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Starting pay for police officers in select cities

San Francisco: $81,380

Los Angeles: $57,420

Cincinnati: $52,990

Miami-Dade: $50,490

Farmington Hills: $49,600

Philadelphia: $47,920

New York: $47,744

Warren: $45,800

Sterling Heights: $43,800

Southfield: $43,100

Detroit: $31,700

Source: City of Detroit, Detroit News research