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Police contract finally reveals hidden benefits

Police work can be difficult, dangerous, and seriously inconvenient, so the Metropolitan Police Department pays extra for jobs that are especially so. Some officers draw extra pay for the danger or expertise their jobs require; many get paid extra for working nights or graveyard shifts.

However, seven executives of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, who work nights and weekends only when necessary and who are not essential in protecting the public, for years have received both assignment pay and shift pay. Although they are paid at public expense, the arrangement was never publicly disclosed until written into the last police employee contract, and then only partially.

Police canine officers get 10 hours of overtime pay every two weeks for looking after their dogs when otherwise off duty.

Officers who receive additional “assignment pay” include but are not limited to detectives, motorcycle patrolmen, helicopter pilots and senior officers who train recruits. Typically, they receive an 8 percent salary increase on a “temporary basis” until they are reassigned out of the specialized jobs, according to the department’s one-year contract with the union. Officers also can make more money by speaking Spanish or by earning a college degree.

In addition, officers who work nights and graveyard shifts get a pay boost equal to 4 percent of their salary, assignment pay and longevity pay combined. As a result, a specially skilled officer who works nights can boost his paycheck more than 12 percent, without counting any overtime the officer may collect.

“It is felt that the knowledge, training and experience they (union executives) have in representing members is above what a regular police officer does,” police department spokesman Bill Cassell said. “It makes sense. They are specialized in what they do, just like a burglary detective is specialized in what he does.”

The Police Protective Association executives’ specialties do not include fighting crime, though. Working out of the organization’s two-story office building in Summerlin, they work full-time on union business, such as representing officers in disciplinary matters, researching and writing articles for the union magazine, “Vegas Beat,” interviewing and endorsing candidates for elected office and negotiating contracts for the union.

According to the most recent copy of “Vegas Beat,” union executives in February and March represented officers at 133 interviews with internal affairs investigators. In addition, they represented officers in a dozen disciplinary matters before either the department’s Use of Force Board, Labor-Management Board or the Citizen Review Board, according to the union literature.

Even though the union officials are the department’s adversary in contract talks, disciplinary and policy matters and in lobbying elected officials for better pay and benefits, their regular wages are paid by the department, and in­directly by taxpayers, rather than from union dues. Many large police departments pay union officials directly as Las Vegas does, but not all.

Yet, although union executives have received the extra 12 percent since 2001, the union contract never mentioned it until last year when an assignment-pay provision was written in for the first time. The 4 percent shift pay for union executives has never yet been mentioned in the contract, even the current one.

Local government experts said it’s inappropriate to exclude the extra pay from the contract where the public, media, and other police officers can see it.

“The public should know about these things, and the line officer should know about them, because the union officer is getting better pay than the guys out catching the criminals,” said Steve Frates, senior fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont-McKenna College in Claremont, Calif.

Erik Herzik, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, said extra wages paid union executives responsible for campaign endorsements, lobbying and other political activity, likely will raise questions at a time when local governments are slashing services and laying off employees in response to plummeting revenue.

“Is this an expense we can continue to afford?” Herzik said. “Is it justified? Is it appropriate given cutbacks the department is facing? Is it appropriate for (an executive) of the union to receive the same as a member of SWAT or a detective or an officer in some other position?”

On one hand, officer Chris Collins, executive director of the police union, defends the additional pay for union executives. Most had received the 8 percent assignment pay before they joined the union staff, the union job requires special training, and union representatives are called out at night and on weekends for disciplinary and other matters that require representation, he said.

“I was getting assignment pay and shift pay as a detective before I came over to the association,” Collins said.

On the other hand, during contract talks this year, union leaders agreed to sacrifice the additional shift pay for yet-to-be-assigned union representatives, Collins said. Since the department agreed to continue shift pay to current union representatives, they lose nothing as long as they hold union office.

“We surrendered shift pay for new officers coming up here,” Collins said.

Citing laws that protect an officers’ privacy, the police department denied the Review-Journal’s request for a salary history for each officer assigned to the Police Protective Association since 1990. The department, however, said the 8 percent assignment differential paid the seven union representatives last fiscal year cost $31,080 and that the shift pay cost $12,080. That averages out to $6,166 per officer

After reviewing past union contracts, Mike Snyder, director of labor relations for the police department, confirmed the 8 percent assignment pay for union officials was never mentioned in the labor contracts until last year.

Officer Dave Kallas, the former executive director of the association who retired about a year ago, was the first union official to ever receive assignment and shift pay, Snyder said. Kallas had received the 12 percent salary boost in his previous assignment as a detective, and it seemed fair to extend to him the same benefits after he was chosen in 2001 to lead the association, Snyder said.

After the precedent was set, the department paid the same salary increase to all officers assigned to the union since that time, Snyder said.

“He was receiving ADP (assignment differential pay) and shift (pay) at the time he went over to the association, and the department honored that so he wouldn’t lose anything by taking that (union) assignment,” Snyder said.

Since the current contract states, for the first time ever, that union representatives shall receive the 8 percent assignment pay, officers newly assigned to the union also will receive the 8 percent pay boost.

Assignment pay for union representatives is appropriate, Snyder said, in part because they are not eligible for overtime wages and because the work requires special training. But formalizing it in the contract is also appropriate, he said.

“We have stated clearly how they will be compensated,” Snyder said.

The extra 4 percent in shift pay for union officials was never spelled out in past contracts, and the current contract fails to mention that officers newly assigned to the union shall not receive shift pay like their predecessors, Snyder said.

Frates, from the Rose Institute of State and Local Government, said it’s unusual that the payments were not mentioned in the officers’ contract previously, and that the omissions are not fair to rank-and-file officers and the public which pays the officers’ salaries.

“Typically, these sorts of things are spelled out with great precision in government contracts,” Frates said. “To the extent it (payments) is not in the contract, it’s not fair to the public and the police officers.”

Herzik said “ideally” the extra salary should have been mentioned in past contracts, but he isn’t surprised it wasn’t.

However, rather than take away the additional income when it was finally noticed, the police department assured union executives the 8 percent assignment pay in the future by including it in the contract for the first time, Herzik said. As a result, if the department wants to take away the assignment pay, it will have to give up something else in return during future contract negotiations.

The one-year contract that expired June 30 was approved — on behalf of the public — by the Metropolitan Police Committee on Fiscal Affairs, which at the time included former chairman William McBeath, who now is president and chief operating officer at the Aria, CityCenter’s centerpiece resort; and the fiscal affairs members, Las Vegas City Councilmen Gary Reese and Steve Wolfson and Clark County commissioners Larry Brown and Steve Sisolak.

“If union representatives are getting extra pay at a time when the department is cutting costs,” Herzik said, “I imagine there are going to be a lot of questions asked.”

Contact reporter Frank Geary at fgeary@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277.

 

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