Fairfax County police officers, frustrated that the concerns of the "street-level cop" are not being adequately addressed by an existing police association, have formed a union whose membership will not include officers in supervisory positions.
The union, called Fairfax COPS Local 5000, will offer an alternative to the Fairfax County Police Association, a non-union organization comprised of about 830 field-level officers and management officials, including the department's chief, Col. John E. Granfield.
"We have special concerns that someone who is not on the street would not know about," Officer J.D. Fowler, chairman of Local 5000, said yesterday. "For a long time we let others speak for us."
A recent decision by the police department to change the work schedules of its patrol officers to rotating shifts came under heavy fire and was the catalyst to form a union, according to Fowler.
Until April, most of the county's 774 patrol officers worked permanent shifts, such as days or evenings only. Under the new system, the officers work three shifts -- days, evenings and midnights -- and alternate every week.
"This disrupted family life," said officer M.E. Garbarino, co-chairman of the new union.
While there is no collective bargaining in Virginia, Garbarino said the union will give street-level officers a collective voice on such issues as rotating shifts and better access to, for example, studies on the effects of rotating shifts on officers' lives.
Moreover, officers will have 24-hour-a-day representation from an attorney who will be familiar with police issues, Garbarino said. While the Police Association provides funding for attorney fees, sometimes officers seeking legal assistance are challenging the department's management in grievances and other cases.
The presence of management in the Police Association's membership makes it difficult to "serve two masters," Garbarino said.
"If they feel that strong about it, they should do it," said Nick Krassensky, president of the Police Association. "What the union is going to do for them besides giving them an attorney, I have no idea . . . collective bargaining is the main meat of any union, not just providing attorneys."
Krassensky said he does not believe the new group "would have changed a thing" on the matter of rotating shifts.
The new union's attorney, Michael T. Leibig, said a group of officers received a charter July 25 from the International Union of Police Associations AFL-CIO, whose members also include police officers in Alexandria, Arlington and Howard County.
This week, Leibig and several officers met with Granfield to officially inform him about the union and to get assurances that there would be no retaliation against officers who join, according to Leibig. He gave them that assurance, he said.
They have a right to form a union, Granfield said yesterday. "I'd be glad to meet with them whether they're organized or not."
Only police officers below the rank of sergeant are eligible to join Local 5000, making the potential pool at least 500 officers, Leibig said. The membership drive has just begun, and an estimated 100 cards have been collected so far, he said. The group plans an election for officers in January.
"Mostly the reaction I get is that it's long overdue," Garbarino said. "It's been mostly relief . . . that for the first time the officers feel that their concerns will be addressed."