Cops Battle With City Over Pay

by Nick Welsh

Santa Barbara city administrators have launched a
facts-and-figures counterattack designed to refute claims made by
the Police Officers Association (POA) in its recent media campaign
to generate public support for its position in labor negotiations
with City Hall. The POA declared an impasse two weeks ago, and
mediation is scheduled to begin this week. Last week, the POA ran
full-page ads in the Independent and Santa Barbara
headlined, “Crisis at the Santa Barbara Police
Department.” Those ads contended that Santa Barbara police officers
were the worst paid of 12 comparable California departments, and
warned that if present trends continue, the department could shrink
from its current roster of 125 sworn officers to 100. In addition,
the POA claims low pay has contributed to poor morale, which has
fueled an alarming degree of turnover among experienced officers.
That, in turn, has contributed to a rise in Class I crime
statistics during the past five years. Jumping into the fray,
Administrative Services Director Marcelo López countered that City
Hall’s latest offer — 19 percent spread throughout three
years — would make Santa Barbara cops better paid than their fellow
officers with the Santa Barbara Sheriffs Department, and the
Ventura City, Ventura County, Oxnard, Simi Valley, and Santa Monica
police departments. López contended that the POA has understated
the true cost to the city for the 28 percent pay increase the POA
is now demanding. He claimed the real cost is 37 percent, though
declined to provide details. But even at 28 percent, López and
members of the City Council have objected that the police raise
could be achieved only by eating into emergency reserves and the
operating budgets of other departments. López took issue with POA
claims of rapid turnover, stating the police department’s turnover
rate was no higher than other departments at City Hall. “We are
budgeted for 140 positions. We have 133. And we have 19 applicants
for the vacant seven positions,” López stated. He acknowledged that
some crime rates have increased during the past five years, but
accused union officials of “statistical cherry picking,” insisting
that crime is still well below what it was in 1996.


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