D.C. police to get contract pay raise for first time in six years

Breaking a bitter six-year impasse between the District and the city police union that kept more than 3,500 sworn members from getting annual raises, an arbitrator has ruled in favor of the city — granting a pay increase but rejecting the union’s request that it be made fully retroactive.

The decision, released Monday night, gives officers, detectives and sergeants a 4 percent raise for the first six months of 2013, nothing in 2014 and a 3 percent increase each year thereafter through 2017. But it does not provide the 3 percent retroactive increases the union sought for each year from 2009 to 2013.

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The ruling is binding and does not require union ratification, although it must be approved by the D.C. Council. The union could challenge the decision by filing a suit that claims an unfair labor practice. Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the executive committee, said the D.C. Police Union will consider its options.

Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mayor C. Vincent Gray (D), said in a statement that city officials “thank the arbiter for affirming that our long-standing offer was fair and reasonable. We look forward to giving our officers long overdue raises.”

Baumann denounced Arbitrator David Vaughn’s 58-page decision as unfair. He said the decision amounts to an average 2 percent-a-year raise that doesn’t reflect increases in the cost of living. He also noted that Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier is among the highest-paid police executives in the region and recently received a substantial boost in pay.

Baumann said Lanier has a “complete lack of support for the people who do the hard work of policing every day,” and he predicted that good officers will flee for safer, higher-paying jobs in the suburbs. “The best will go,” he said. Baumann said that in the past four months, before news of the contract emerged, nearly 90 officers had left. “Those who cannot get hired elsewhere will stay,” he said. “The residents of the city deserve better.”

Lanier said that even during the years when no annual raises were offered — which she stressed occurred “during the height of the financial crisis” — members still got contractual step increases and other pay boosts for longevity and retention.

“Preserving our pay and benefits at a time when other unions and jurisdictions were losing theirs sends a strong message about the administration’s commitment to public safety,” Lanier said in a statement.

The arbitrator rejected a key argument by union negotiators: that District officers should be paid salaries comparable to their counterparts in other big cities. Baumann said the same principle was used to set Lanier’s salary; with enhancers, her pay in 2012 climbed from a base of $175,000 to $253,000.

But Vaughn wrote that a police chief is typically hired after a nationwide search that takes into account competition with cities across the county; most officers, on the other hand, come from the D.C. area. Baumann said the union’s proposal would have put District officers in the middle of the salary range for officers in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles.

The starting salary for a D.C. officer is about $46,000 a year, and the range for union members tops out at $68,544 after nine step increases, typically one a year.

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