Sergeant Mike McGrew has stepped down as head of the Santa Barbara Police Officers Association (POA), one of Santa Barbara’s most visible and politically active public employee unions, after spending the past year going eyeball-to-eyeball with city manager Jim Armstrong in some of the toughest contract negotiations in years. McGrew will be replaced by field training officer Eric Beecher, an 11-year veteran with the department, who played the more reasonable “good cop” to McGrew’s pugilistically intransigent “bad cop” at the bargaining table and in the media.
Push came to shove when City Hall demanded the POA, like all city unions, take a significant pay cut in light of a $9-million budget shortfall. Where other city unions made concessions, the POA — whose contract expired this year — resisted, questioning whether the shortfall was real or a figment of Armstrong’s Machiavellian imagination. Ultimately, the union agreed to cuts worth about 5.5 percent, but only after Armstrong and the City Council threatened to impose a contract on the union. Most painful to the cops was a temporary agreement to make a contribution into their own retirements, something they hadn’t done since the 1980s. (Since the contract was ratified, city officials said they discovered their state-mandated contribution to the cops’ retirement accounts next year will offset any savings they just secured at the bargaining table.) McGrew said he had planned all along to step down after the new contract was secured.
Beecher said he’ll bring a less confrontational style to the post than McGrew, but that his objectives will be the same. McGrew, he said, will continue to play the “role of Yoda” with the POA. “Mike needed to take a break, and we needed to take some of the emphasis away from Mike versus Jim Armstrong,” he said. “And his wife wanted him to spend more time at home and less time on the phone.” Beecher said the POA will keep a sharp eye on the next city budget and the next City Council race. Thus far, he said, the POA has not gotten lobbied on behalf of any of the 45 candidates seeking to fill the council vacancy created by Das Williams’s departure for the State Assembly. Beecher was born in Lafayette, Indiana, and moved to Santa Barbara at age 14, when his father — a nuclear safety engineer — got a job with UCSB. He graduated from Dos Pueblos High School. He served in the police reserves for four years prior to becoming a sworn police officer. He did a two-year stint working security at the airport before that.