, Salem, MA

March 12, 2014

Scanlon: Police contract a win for the city

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

Now that I am out of office, I try not to comment on local news but last Friday’s editorial and Paul Leighton’s earlier article on the Beverly police patrolmen’s contract may benefit from further discussion.

The editorial writer is obviously not a fan of the recently settled contract with its “healthy day” provision, but a full understanding of what is a good contract involves getting into the details. Before discussing that issue, let me clarify what the Beverly Education Incentive Program is. It is neither new nor is it expanded. It is the continuation of the long-existing state law known as the Quinn Bill, designed to encourage the hiring of better-educated police officers. To repeat, it is not new, nor is it broadened, but in recent years, the state stepped away from its portion of Quinn Bill funding (the state was paying 50 percent, a sum of over $200,000 a year), leaving that to the cities and towns.

In accepting that increased obligation, Beverly negotiated hard with the union and obtained agreement on a 25 percent annual reduction in the 20-day per-year sick leave allowance that police officers have received for many decades. This five-day reduction in the allowance for every patrolman obviously represents a significant cost savings for the city of Beverly. In addition, the city successfully negotiated the elimination of an existing but unnecessary police position and further succeeded in reducing the number of officers who could on short notice on any given day take a day off by using personal or vacation time. This number was reduced from four to three, again a 25 percent reduction. This reduction in that longstanding benefit has an immediate positive impact on overtime cost because, obviously, there is a need to have appropriate coverage of police on duty at all times.

The community policing stipend is also worthy of comment. As we all know, police officers work three shifts: days, evenings and nights. The starting and ending times of these shifts are fixed and often do not correlate well with the needs of the community for police presence. The community policing stipend in the contract gives the police chief broadly based flexibility to adjust shift hours to meet community needs without incurring overtime.

Now for the “healthy day” issue, it is all about motivation and saving money for the city. Police departments all across the state and beyond suffer from the prospect of sick-leave abuse by some officers who, after working a highly paid detail or time and one-half overtime, have been known to call in sick the next day and take advantage of their sick leave allowance. Healthy day programs create an incentive for more desirable behavior from the city’s viewpoint by reducing sick leave and encouraging officers to use “healthy days” to take their time off when it does not impact minimum manning and, thus, does not require filling those staffing needs with another officer who is being paid time and a half. It is a matter of economics and human motivation.

The recently settled contract is innovative and, compared to the recent Boston settlement, is an extreme bargain for Beverly. It is fair to both sides. Let me conclude by saying that far from being something signed on the way out the door, as the editorial stated, this contract offer lay unchanged in the patrolmen’s union’s hands for several months before it was finally accepted by the union. Many patrolmen were not thrilled with it.

Bill Scanlon

Former mayor