New Phila. police contract award includes narcotics rotation

United States Attorney Zane David Memeger, left, listens as Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, right, answers questions during a joint news conference to announce six members of the Philadelphia Police Narcotics Unit are charged in racketeering conspiracy in Philadelphia on July 30, 2014. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
United States Attorney Zane David Memeger, left, listens as Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, right, answers questions during a joint news conference to announce six members of the Philadelphia Police Narcotics Unit are charged in racketeering conspiracy in Philadelphia on July 30, 2014. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Posted: August 02, 2014

An arbitration panel has awarded a new contract to more than 6,000 Philadelphia police officers that includes raises and other benefits costing about $69 million more than the administration had budgeted - but Mayor Nutter isn't blinking at the cost.

That's because the three-year contract also finally allows the department to rotate officers in and out of its narcotics and Internal Affairs divisions, a tool police commissioners have been seeking for years.

Thursday's announcement of the award came a day after six narcotics officers were charged in a sweeping federal corruption case, accusing them of robbing, kidnapping, and beating drug dealers, among other misdeeds.

Regular transfers - and not allowing officers to stay too long in narcotics enforcement - have long been hailed as an important tool in preventing corruption.

In the aftermath of the federal charges, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey on Thursday reiterated his desire to transfer drug officers, something that had been barred by previous union contracts.

At a joint briefing at City Hall, his boss concurred.

"You need only look at yesterday's news to see how important some of the changes will be to the department," Nutter said.

Although the city faces "significant financial challenges," the mayor said he would not appeal the arbitrator's award, as he had done in a long, bitter fight over an expensive firefighters award in 2010.

Taxpayers will pay a steep price for the rotation authority. The police contract contains a 3 percent raise this year and 3.25 percent raises in each of the next two years.

Officers also will get a $1,500 bonus when the department is accredited by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, or by September 2015.

All told, the contract will cost the city $218 million, about $69 million more than budgeted in the city's five-year plan, Nutter said. That means the administration will have to submit a new plan to the city's financial overseer, the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, explaining how the added costs will be covered.

Nutter said it was too soon to say where that money would come from, but called the pay raises "fair and appropriate compensation."

He and Ramsey also took pains Thursday to defend the department, a day after the sobering allegations against the six officers were revealed.

"I will not allow six sick scumbags to negatively impact the reputation of 6,000-plus men and women who risk their lives each and every day," Nutter said. "They are heroes in many instances."

Ramsey was even more expansive in his remarks about public perceptions of his officers.

"The majority of the officers I have working in the narcotics section . . . they are not corrupt, period," he said.

At one point, he took exception to the illustration on the cover of Thursday's Philadelphia Daily News, depicting Police Headquarters wrapped in crime-scene tape.

He called that "a slap in the face of everybody who walks into that building," and said, "I wouldn't be here if I didn't think this was an outstanding police department.

"Do we have a few warts here and there? Do we have a malignant tumor or two that needs to be removed? Absolutely," he said.

"I can either ignore it, hope nobody gets caught doing anything, and create the illusion that everything's just fine . . . or I can read what's going on, understand what's going on in some instances, and take aggressive action to root it out.

"You do that for the citizens of this city," he said, "and the good, hardworking cops that don't want to see this any more than me, you, or anybody else."

The details of the narcotics division's rotations remain to be worked out between the department and the Fraternal Order of Police, but the contract allows for no more than 20 percent turnover in that division each year.

The new contract also calls for periodic unannounced drug tests in narcotics and other sensitive units.

Calls for rotating officers' assignments go back a dozen years. In 2002, the department's integrity office recommended a series of changes that could help stop corruption in the narcotics squads. Tops on the list was giving the commissioner power to rotate drug officers.

The integrity office said narcotics officers who stayed too long in the same units could become "insular, self-protective, and burnt-out."

On Thursday, Ramsey said the rotation also was good for career development, allowing more officers to work in specialized units, and moving experienced officers to other posts in the city.

"The purpose of the rotation isn't solely" corruption, he said. "If you've got a person who is corrupt, six months is too long."

The contract also gives Ramsey more flexibility in making promotions, spreading resources throughout the year and responding to crime spikes and trends in different areas of the city.

The police union long has fought regular rotations in narcotics, arguing that the unit needed experienced and seasoned officers.

John McNesby, president of Lodge 5 of the FOP, said Thursday that the rotation was "one of the areas we differed on." But he also said, "We got caught up in a bad time," with police corruption making bold-type headlines.

"The main concern for our officers out there is their medical coverage and money in their pocket, and I think this delivers on both," said McNesby, who joined Nutter and Ramsey at the City Hall briefing.

He said the FOP also would not appeal the award.

"I believe this is an award that works for the police officers on the street," he said. "It's a great day for both the city and the members of the FOP."


tgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-2730215-854-2730 

@troyjgraham

Inquirer staff writer Mark Fazlollah contributed to this article.

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