D.C. Mayor Marion Barry went to the 3rd District police station yesterday to talk to the troops about fighting crime. But a funny thing happened. For the better part of an hour, it was he who did the listening as the officers complained about pay and low morale.
It wasn't quite what the mayor had in mind. So he tried lecturing at the blackboard and that didn't stop them. Then he talked about the severe budget problems faced by the city -- and that didn't work, either.
Finally, he told the 60-plus officers listening that they should reconcile themselves to not making as much money as they believe they are entitled to. "I love what I'm doing," he told them.
To which one officer responded, "$64,000 [the mayor's salary] makes it easier to swallow."
The visit was part of a series of calls that the mayor and D.C. Police Chief Maurice T. Turner are paying to the city's various police precincts in an effort to learn officers' gripes and to encourage them to upgrade their efforts to fight crime dispite budgetary problems. But what the mayor hadn't counted on was the unhappiness of many police officers with the recently signed union contract for police.
Almost from the moment he walked into the roll call room, the officers bored in on their financial woes and those of the police department.
"You say we got an 8.5 percent increase," Officer Leor Swain told Barry at one point. "That's on paper. I can't take 8.5 percent on paper to the store to buy groceries."
"My focus is on crime," replied the mayor, trying to steer the conversation back to less volatile subject. "How do we reduce crime in the District of Columbia?"
All that earned him was some laughter and sneers.
Barry told the officers that he believes the union did "an admirable job in negotiating the contract. . . . If the union had agreed to a higher contract, there would have been some possible layoffs of officers. My philosphy is more people working with a little less."
The three-year contract calls for sergeants and below to receive $1,400 for the first 18 months, followed by a general wage increase of $1,000 in the second half of the second year and a seven-to-nine percent cost-of-living increase in the third year.
The city is faced with severe budget problems and every agency in the government has to bear its share of the cuts because the city only has so much money "in the pot," Barry explained.
"This pot you are talking about -- " asked Officer W. McAbee, "How much is in the pot?"
Barry, like a teacher instructing a class, turned to the blackboard behind him, grabbed a piece of chalk and wrote "$1.46 billion." Seventy-five percent of the figure is spent on schools, human services and the criminal justice system, which includes police, he said.
After Barry answered a question about why the mayor wanted to divert $6 million that Congress had earmarked for the police department to the corrections department, another officer raised his hand.
"Since you say there is no money, why not work with the morale?" asked officer Thomas M. Childs, a 12-year police veteran. "Most of us you see in here make in the low 20s. . . .There is no reason that a police officer should have to work two weeks on days, two weeks on evenings, and two weeks at midnight. You can't get a part-time job. Your families suffer. We have high divorce rates. . . . "
Barry smiled and paused. Then he said that he understood the stress of a police officer's job. However, he said city teachers often tell him they work harder than police officers. "They get beat up on by these students," he said.
"But teachers also work days and get two months off in the summer," Childs retorted.
When another officer suggested that the mayor and the police chief consider some pay incentives for the patrol officers, Barry responded, "I don't think that mooney ought to be the basis of every conversation."
That brought laughter, forcing Barry to pause briefly. "It ought to be part of it," he said. "You need money to live."
Barry then tried to change the subject to crime.
"How many of you are familiar with our 13-point crime prevention plan?" he asked. A few hands went up.
"Officer Childs, do you know what my crime prevention plan is about?" Barry asked from the lectern.
"That is basically what they had in the better neighborhoods already," Childs said. "When people in the better neighborhoods see a suspicious car, they call the police. When they see a suspicious person, they call the police. They know the only thing I can do is record the crime."
Again, the officers laughed. Barry shrugged and smiled, then said that he felt his plan was more comprehensive than that.
Finally, the mayor said he was very concerned about the increase drug use in the city, which he blamed for the rise in city crime.
"If we can begin to make a dent in the narcotics problem, we will see a serious decrease in our crime problems," he said.
Officer Childs interrupted the mayor. "As long as the profit is there, we will have it [drugs].Until you start handing out drugs [for free], you are going to have it."
"It was a healthy discussion and an outstanding meeting," the mayor said as he left a few minutes later. "I wanted to know what was on the officers' minds."
Then he turned to a reporter and asked, "Are you going to write, 'The mayor walked into the lions' den and conquered the lions'?"