The Prince George's County police union, battling proposed layoffs and pay cuts, has fired its first salvo in the form of a scathing television commercial.
The commercial, which began running yesterday on the on the local Cable News Network channels in the county, cites increasing crime rates and accuses County Executive Parris Glendening of "handcuffing" police officers with his proposed budget cuts.
The Prince George's Fraternal Order of Police Local 89 expects to spend about $10,000 this week for the television spots and quarter-page ads in the local Prince George's Journal.
Prince George's is one of several local jurisdictions facing major budget cuts and layoffs because of sharp declines in revenue. The advertising campaign is among the most forceful measures taken by a union as a countermeasure.
While such measures are not unheard of, they go beyond the usual steps taken by unions fighting management in the private or public sectors, advertising executives said.
"It's much more common to use radio than TV, especially in a large metropolitan market because of the cost," said Frank Powers, of Fingerhut, Powers and Associates, a District firm that specializes in labor public relations. "Certainly, it's smart targeting . . . folks who want to be informed are watching CNN these days."
Opening with footage of a slaying victim being wheeled out of an apartment, the commercial notes that homicides in Prince George's County have increased each of the last three years and that the number of armed robberies last month doubled compared with January 1990.
The commercial closes with a scene of a handcuffed police officer and plea for viewers to call Glendening to express their concerns.
"This commercial is mild compared to the ones that will follow," said Darryl A. Jones Jr. president of the union local. "I am not going to sit still for any police officers being laid off."
Glendening could not be reached for comment about the commercial. He has told police officers that the county could dismiss as many as 160 officers if the union does not agree to forgo a scheduled 7 percent pay raise and additional merit raises.
County officials already have sent letters to the 48 members of the current police recruit class informing them that there is a "substantial probability" that they will lose their jobs after July.
County officials have said that layoffs, pay cuts and new taxes are necessary to offset a $72.3 million revenue shortfall that they blame on a major downturn in the regional economy. The county already has laid off 190 employees, although none of them was a uniformed officer.
In addition, Glendening has canceled plans to hire 200 more officers.
The proposed layoffs would virtually eliminate the gains that the county has made during a hiring campaign undertaken in 1989 after reports of severe manpower shortages in the police department.
The police union, which is continuing to negotiate with the county, has rejected a plan that would defer the pay raises for nine months in exchange for no layoffs. The board of directors of the firefighters union has tentatively agreed to a similar plan.
Crime has skyrocketed in Prince George's County. It has the highest crime rate of any of the suburban jurisdictions," said Corky Gieseler, of Gieseler, Leszcynski and Associates, a Bowie advertising firm that produced the commercial. "The county cannot afford to lose the police protection that it has been promised. That is the message the FOP wants to get out."
The commercial is scheduled to run six times a day for a week on the county's two cable stations that broadcast CNN, Multivision and Metrovision.
"We're committed to spend what it takes," said Jones. "The alternative is just too costly."