The Washington Post

Mayor promises D.C. police raises, but new money is contingent on a union contract

Mayor Vincent C. Gray looks up during a closing prayer after delivering the 2013 State of the District Address last month. Gray on Thursday offered pay raises to police officers if they accept their new contract. (Astrid Riecken/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

The District’s annual police awards ceremony is a time for beleaguered cops to strut in front of their families and the public. Thursday night, officers got kudos for lowering the city’s murder count to numbers not seen in a half-century, and they took home plaques and pictures with the chief to hang on their walls.

What the District’s nearly 4,000 police officers have not gotten in five years is a raise.

So when Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) promised the rank and file some cold, hard cash, he got the loudest applause of the night inside a packed auditorium on the campus of Gallaudet University in Northeast Washington.

“We want to move as quickly as we can to give raises to each and every one of our officers,” the mayor said while heaping praise on Chief Cathy L. Lanier.

But Gray left out a catch. The city and police union have not been able to reach an agreement on a contract, and city officials have long made clear that there can be no raises until the impasse is over.

Gray seemed to be trying to nudge the officers a bit. “We are ready to move forward,” he told the crowd, “because it’s the right thing to do.” Then he added, “We want to do this in a matter of weeks, if not days.”

Officials are by law not allowed to speak about the contract talks at this stage of mediation, and both Lanier and Paul Quander, deputy mayor for public safety, declined to discuss the issues that are holding up contract talks.

Gray, in his remarks, offered no further details, including the amount of a raise, which he said would come from the $190 million in new revenue the city has for fiscal 2013.

In announcing the surplus last month, Gray promised to spend it on affordable housing and raises for city workers. His spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, said the announcement should not come as a surprise to officers. Of Gray’s hope for making it happen quickly, Ribeiro said: “The mayor’s an optimist.”

Kristopher Baumann, head of the city’s police union, wasn’t impressed.

“Mr. Gray has repeatedly made similar statements, and yet we are at an impasse in contract negotiations,” Baumann said in an e-mail. “The actions of the District at the bargaining table have been, at best, inconsistent with Mr. Gray’s public statements.”

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said contract negotiations are critical to the city’s public-safety agenda, but he walked a fine line between the two divided parties.

Wells commended the mayor for supporting the pay raise, but he added, “A new contract is critical to enable the city to hire the police officers we need.”

Wells chairs the council’s public safety committee and is contemplating a bid for mayor in 2014.

In an interview after the awards ceremony, Gray said officers know that a signed contract is necessary for a pay raise, even if he didn’t remind them of that in his remarks. He said he didn’t believe any of the city’s demands of the union were “onerous,” though he offered no details on the city’s position.

But as the last of the officers departed the Gallaudet auditorium, holding their awards but not yet pocketing any additional money, Gray suggested that the two sides remain locked.

“If they will move, we’ll move,” he said.

Clarence Williams is the night police reporter for The Washington Post and has spent the better part of 13 years standing next to crime scene tape, riding in police cars or waking officials in the middle of night to gather information about breaking news in and around Washington.

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