Prince George's County Police virtually stopped giving out traffic and speeding tickets yesterday and took their time answering some crime calls in the first day of a work slowdown to demonstrate dissatisfaction with contract negotiaitons.
They responded quickly to shootings and rapes but frequently took several hours to respond to less severe crimes, such as larcenies and burglaries, according to police officials. And at crime scenes they often interviewed more than a dozen possible witnesses instead of just a couple as is customary.
"Before [the slowdown] we'd hustle from one crime to another," said Detective Robert Edgar of the Hyattsville station. "Now we're working to the rules."
About 90 percent of the county's 838 police officers participated in the work slowdown, according to a member of the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police.
The slowdown is the result of police unhappiness with the 5 percent salary increase offered by county officials. Police, who have been working for the last nine months without a contract, want an 8.5 percent pay increase.
In addition, police want to continue receiving a 10 percent differential for holding an associate college degree and a 15 percent differential for a bachelor's degree or more. County officials want to reduce the differentials for police who already have such degrees and eliminate them for officers who get degrees in the future.
The dispute came to a head Wednesday when County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan refused to meet with police union chief Laney Hester about the police contract. Hogan told Hester through a secretary that he would have to continue speaking to Allen Siegel, the county's private lawyer who negotiates with labor unions, according to Hogan's spokesman, Jim O'Neill.
"Hogan won't give the process a chance," said Hester. "His personality demands a fight rather than a meeting of the minds."
Hogan would not comment yesterday on the work slowdown; police chief Jack McHale also refused to comment.
Union members said they expect the work slowdown to last at least a week, or until Hogan agrees to a higher pay raise. They expect the effects of the slowdown to be felt more in the higher-density, higher-crime areas of Oxon Hill and Seat Pleasant than in areas like Bowie and Clinton.
County police salaries range rom $14,727 for a rookie to $40,000 for a deputy chief, according to Hester, who said those figures, at least in the lower ranges, are roughly 10 percent below salaries in other suburban jurisdictions. County police have not had a pay raise since 1979, when they received a 5 percent increase.
During his two years as county executive, Hogan has given county workers tough fights over pay raises. Last summer, he refused to sign a contract with county workers that negotiators for both sides had agreed upon, resulting in an 11-day strike by the workers. A judge later ordered Hogan to sign the contract.
Hogan's tough stance with unions developed partly to keep the county budget within the amount established by a budget-cutting measure passed by the voters and known as TRIM. For the last two years, however, Hogan's budgets have been even lower than the amounts required by TRIM.