News & Politics

In Contract Battle With Cops, DC Wins, But Everyone May Lose

What the city saves in back pay it may lose in goodwill from its police officers.

The DC Police Union and the city have been battling for six years over a new contract and pay raises for the cops. On Monday the city won.

An arbitrator approved the city’s offer of what the police union called “meager” raises going forward and scant back pay. Entry-level pay, stalled at $48,715 since 2007, will be pushed up above $50,000.

But what the District government won in avoiding back wages it may lose in goodwill from the cops, according to interviews with street officers.

“It shows very little respect for the rank and file,” says a veteran in the canine unit, who declined to speak on the record for fear of retribution. “We are out on the street every day and night. It’s clear the city government doesn’t appreciate what we do.”

The District’s police have been working without a contract since the last one expired in 2008. In collective bargaining negotiations, the Fraternal Order of Police had asked for retroactive pay raises of 3 percent from 2009 to mid-2013 and a 4-percent raise this year. The city offered a 4-percent raise in mid-2013 and no raise in 2014, according to the union. Under the new contract, police would receive 3-percent increases in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Most officers were expecting more back pay from the six years without raises, and their anger could affect their loyalty to DC, according to some cops. “People who can leave will start to get out now,” says a patrol officer. “They see the light.”

Outgoing union president Kristopher Baumann, a constant critic of Mayor Vincent Gray and Police Chief Cathy Lanier, sounded off.

“You have a mayor under criminal investigation that has actively worked to permanently damage law enforcement in the District,” Baumann told Washingtonian, “and everyone has stood by and watched him do it.”

Federal prosecutors are investigating Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign, and four of his close aides have pleaded guilty to felonies, but Gray has been neither charged nor named as a target.

Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro responded in kind.

“If Mr. Baumann had not stood in the way, his members would have received raises years ago,” Ribeiro told Washingtonian. “After this disservice to his members, I can understand why he is embarrassed and seeking to shift blame to others.”

In a statement, Ribeiro reiterated that Baumann failed to accept “a generous and fair package of wage increases for his members.” Documents released by the arbitrator, however, show the District’s last best offer did not include back pay raises, beyond the one in 2013. The statement also said city officials “honor the service” of police.

Police Chief Lanier, who gets $253,000 a year under a five-year contract she signed in 2012, pointed out in a statement that the 4-percent bump for MPD’s rank and file is more generous than what the city offers to other public-employee unions.

“Despite the shortcomings of the award,” Lanier said, “I am grateful that we have a compensation agreement that guarantees raises for our hardworking members through fiscal year 2017. I am hopeful that the future stability provided by the guaranteed raises demonstrates the city’s support for the best police officers in the country and their families.”

The police union is hoping the DC Council will pass a law that calls for regular cost-of-living raises for police. But there’s no guarantee such a law would make it through the council.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.