District Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson met with police union officials at Harper's Ferry last week in an effort to smooth the differences that have wracked the Metropolitan Police Department in recent months.
Jefferson, in what union officials called an "unprecedented move" invited leaders of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers to speak before a gathering of top department officials who were there to formulate department goals for the next five years.
IBPO executive vice president Larry Melton said that "one of the goals that came out of the meeting was to have a stronger, more evenhanded labor relations policy."
An immediate result of the summit will be the creation of "goal implementation" panels that Melton said will include both police officials and union members.
Melton, whose union represents the department's rank-and-file officers, said that "for the first time, the chief is saying, 'Let's work together.' He knows that the department's reputation was being hurt by our disputes, and that we were at each others' throats. But now he's making a legitimate effort to listen to what we have to say and we are ready to work right along with him."
Jefferson was in Houston attending a seminar yesterday and was unavailable for comment. But his administrative assistant, Capt. James Shugart, said Jefferson thought it would be productive to include the union in the Harpers Ferry proceedings.
"After all the differences we've experienced between the union and the chief's office," said Shugart, "the chief thought we should bring the union in and kick around some of the things that have been bothering them."
Melton said it was his understanding that Mayor Marion Barry, at a meeting with Jefferson and IBPO president Larry Simons earlier this month, instructed the chief to start working more closely with the union.
"Jefferson is attempting to no longer view us [the union] as an adversary, but as a group that represents the majority view. He seems ready to listen to our ideas, and we are ready to express them," Melton said.
Melton said the chief already has moved to clear up some of the union's outstanding complaints.
At a meeting last Friday, for instance, Jefferson assured union officials that the officer's medical clinic will continue to dispense prescription drugs to officers for non-work-related injuries and illnesses, contrary to an earlier announcement.
Melton said Jefferson also told the union that the department will resume keeping uniforms in stock. The union has complained that since the department started supplying uniforms only on an order-by-order basis, five years ago, officers have had to wait months to receive replacements for worn or damaged uniforms.
Jefferson also agreed to negotiate with the union about ways to limit the large amounts of overtime being paid to officers for court appearances in cases they are investigating.
"There has been an attitude change," said Melton. 'A spirit of working together instead of working against each other is now evident."
Shugart said that, in the future, the union will be included in discussions of department policy. He also said the chief "recognizes the union as a vital part of the department. We will be using their ideas for the betterment of the department."