Statement from the Fraternal Order of Police, Gulfport Lodge #107 - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Statement from the Fraternal Order of Police, Gulfport Lodge #107

The Fraternal Order of Police granted a charter to the Gulfport Lodge #107 last month. In honor of Lt. Robert J. Curry who died in the line of duty August 14, 2008, the Gulfport Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police chose his badge number 107 as their lodge number. The Fraternal Order of Police has a nationwide tradition of cultivating a spirit of fraternalism and mutual helpfulness among its members and the citizens that they serve every day. The Fraternal Order of Police encourages fraternal, educational, charitable and social activities among law enforcement officers in an effort to create and maintain a tradition of esprit de corps, insuring fidelity to duty under all circumstances and conditions.

On Tuesday night, members of the Gulfport Fraternal Order of Police attended Mayor Schloegel's State of the City Address. The Gulfport FOP agrees with many of the points that Mayor Schloegel is planning, especially his plans to increase revenue for the city, plans for Jones Park, the harbor, and VA properties. The Gulfport FOP was disappointed to learn that some of the plans to save money are through cuts to city employee benefits. We further feel that many of the Mayor's statements were inaccurate. The Gulfport FOP is dedicated to educating the public about many facets of law enforcement and we would like the opportunity to respond to the Mayor's address.

The Mayor asked each city department head to cut their respective budgets by 10%. Prior to this request, Chief Alan Weatherford and the Gulfport Police Dept. recognized the need and moral obligation to be good stewards with the citizens' money. The department cut scheduled overtime out of the patrol schedule, made efforts to decrease fuel usage, increased in house training, and other efforts to make the department as financially efficient as possible. Since the Mayor's request, approximately $600,000 of overtime was cut out on top of completely eliminating the Police Department's entire capital budget which is used to purchase long term usage items such as police cars and other equipment. The department has partially filled that void by purchasing new equipment through drug forfeitures that by federal law the City Government cannot spend. This money can only be spent on equipment and training for police officers. The $600,000 reduction in overtime, if spent at a patrol officer's overtime rate, would have equated to over 23,500 man hours of police work.

Many citizens may ask why so much overtime is needed. The simple answer is lack of manpower. Recently, the International Association of Chiefs of Police conducted a manpower survey of the Police Department. This study, which was presented to the Mayor and the City Council, said that the Police Department should have 236 Police Officers. In the spring of 2009, GPD had 205 positions with 192 filled, when Mayor Brent Warr froze the unfilled positions. The current city administration cut the 13 unfilled positions. Due to the current hiring freeze, the only positions being filled are those paid for by Federal Grants, which are two positions. Current manpower is 46 Officers less than the IACP study. This manpower equates to each patrol shift being staffed with 12 Patrol Officers, 3 Sergeants, and 1 Lieutenant for the First District (Gulfport south of Seaway Rd.) and 5 Patrol Officers, 1 Sergeant, and 1 Lieutenant for the Second District (Gulfport north of Seaway Rd.) These numbers reflect the officers that patrol your streets everyday and not the other divisions of the Police Department. In a normal 12 hour shift, the Gulfport Police Department routinely answers 250 to 350 calls for service. Overtime is used to supply manpower to special Burglary details, Narcotics Details, and Prostitution Details. Overtime is also needed for Officers to get their state mandated 24 hours of training each year and attend court, without which criminals could not be prosecuted.

The Gulfport FOP was very disappointed to learn that Mayor Schloegel felt that our benefits package is "excessive", "lucrative", and "too rich". Mayor Schloegel pointed out that city employees, including Police Officers received "an unprecedented salary increase" in 2008 and 2009. This could not be further from the truth. First, the pay raises the Mayor refers to came in 2007 and 2008. Mayor Warr's purpose in these raises was to bring city employees, including police officers' pay up to the Southeast average for a city the size of Gulfport. These raises were made after a salary survey was completed in 2006. Employees received 75% of the pay raise in 2007 and 25% of the pay raise in 2008 to bring them up to the 2006 Southeast average. Mayor Schloegel pointed out that the average total raise over the two years was 12%. That means that city employees were working for 12% below average pay prior to the raise. With no raises in 2009 and no foreseeable raise in 2010, city employees are still working for below average pay since they are still working for the 2006 average.

Mayor Schloegel also pointed out that city employees "received 12 sick days, 13 holidays, 3 weeks of vacation, and because of the Family Medical Leave Act, an employee is given up to 90 days of leave under many different circumstances". Twelve 8 hour sick days equates to 96 hours of sick leave per year. Many police officers work 12 hour shifts. This means they can call in sick 8 days per year. Unused sick time rolls over and accrues over an officers' career. Officers receive two weeks paid vacation per year for the first five years of service. After five years, they receive one extra day per year for each additional year of service over five years. This also rolls over and accrues over an officers' career. The average officer at the Gulfport Police Department has about 4 years of experience. The Mayor's claim of 3 weeks of vacation may be true for the average city employee, but does not hold true for the average Police Officer who has not been around long enough to receive more than the basic two weeks' vacation. The Mayor's claim of up to 90 days off under the Family Medical Leave Act is also misleading. When an Officer has a baby, or a sick parent, child or wife, the Family Medical Leave Act allows not only police officers, but all employees, government or private sector to take extended leave for up to twelve weeks. What the Mayor failed to say was that during this extended leave which is protected by Federal Law, the officer has to use up his sick and vacation time that he has accrued over the years while out on leave. If an average police officer with four years experience never used any sick or vacation time during his first four years of service, he would have (based on 12 hr. patrol shifts) 26.6 days of vacation time and 32 days of sick time for a total of 58.6 days of time off. We would ask Mayor Schloegel to explain the excessiveness of this benefits package to one of our pregnant wives or sick elderly parents since we cannot find the words to explain it to them.

Another benefit that Mayor Schloegel is proposing to take away is take home vehicles for those employees who live outside of the city limits. This issue seems pretty cut and dry on paper, but once again the Mayor is leaving out parts of the issue. Currently, most officers who have take home car privileges live outside of the city limits. These officers were recruited to work for the Gulfport Police Department and were told about the take home car program as one of the benefits of employment. The Mayor expects to save money by parking these cars. This idea is quite short sighted. Officers routinely write citations on their way into and home from work when they see traffic violations. With no take home cars, this revenue will be lost. Officers often respond to calls for service on their way to and from work. This may be as routine as a stranded motorist, or as important as a shooting or an armed robbery. This service, which is provided by officers who are technically off duty and are not on the clock, would also be lost. Due to cuts in overtime several police families have decided to sell a personal vehicle and become one car families. With the loss of the take home vehicle, officers driving personal vehicles to work will put a strain on families whose wives need to get to work or get children to school. Roughly half of the Officers who live outside of the city limits are currently on call with specialized units such as S.W.A.T., Crime Scene Unit, Detectives, Narcotics, etc. Taking away take home cars will affect the response time of officers who are called in to emergencies on their time off because they would be forced to drive personal vehicles to a police station to get their vehicle, response gear, and then travel to the scene of the emergency. Even officers who are not on call, are subject to recall in the event of hurricanes, natural disasters (tornado on Dedeaux Rd. a few years ago), chemical spills (Seaway Rd. chemical spill a few year ago), or any other situation that requires additional manpower. Finally, several studies have been done that show maintenance costs are lower when officers are assigned a vehicle to take home. Officers tend to take better care of patrol cars when it is personally assigned to them because they take ownership and responsibility for it. This is no different than the handgun that each officer is assigned.

In October of 2009, when the Police Department took the original 10% budget cut, and $600,000 of overtime was taken out, Officers' budgets and families began to feel the pinch. Again in January, Officers felt a greater pinch when their health insurance rates were significantly raised for employees and their families. Mayor Schloegel said "Many families in Gulfport and along our Coast are still struggling financially. And with many of our families tightening their belts, it makes sense that City Hall should do the same." The Gulfport FOP would like to remind the Mayor that our Police Officers' families are those families. Police Officers' families are struggling financially. Police Officers' families are tightening their belts. Several Officers have had to sell their houses and several others have lost their homes to foreclosure. Others have decided to sell a vehicle and become one car families. Please stop trying to fix the City of Gulfport's budgetary problems by taking money out of Police Officers' pockets.

With that in mind, Mayor Schloegel further plans to have city employee's, including Police Officers take three furlough days. Furlough days are days off without pay. This is a bitter pill for a Police Officer to swallow. If an Officer violates policy, he could face a suspension (days off without pay) as punishment for his transgressions. Police Officers are now being asked to take days off without pay to make up for the financial irresponsibility of politicians. The Gulfport FOP understands the current state of the economy, but the City of Gulfport was in debt long before the economic downturn.

If each of the 190 Police Officers left in Gulfport takes three furlough days, it will equate to 572 days or 4576 hours taken off. The overtime budget cut already insured that the Police Department would work over 23,500 hours less this year. Now the Mayor is trying to ensure that another 4,500 hours go unworked for a total of over 28,000 man hours. These are interesting statistics considering what Mayor Schloegel said towards the end of his speech.

Mayor Schloegel commented on the Police Department's "unwavering commitment to neighborhood meetings, which allows the department to develop strong, personal relationships with residents, while gathering a firm understanding of the needs of every community". Recently, the Partners with Police meeting where Police Chief Alan Weatherford and his staff would travel into the communities of Gulfport to speak with citizens, were cancelled due to budget cuts.

Mayor Schloegel cited Police Chief Alan Weatherford's leadership and how his leadership has resulted in significant reductions in violent crime each of the last two years. And our favorite quote of the night "You can't put a price tag on the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you and your children are safe at night. But we certainly can thank the men and women of the Gulfport Police Department for putting their lives at risk to ensure that we are safer".

The Gulfport FOP does recognize and appreciate the leadership provided by Chief Alan Weatherford and his administration. That leadership and foresight along with the hard work of each and every officer have led to these significant reductions in crime. We would like to know how we are to continue to produce such results while working more than 28,000 hours less than we did last year. How are we to produce such results when morale is at an all time low since officers are doing the same job and bringing home less money to provide for their wives and children?

The Gulfport Fraternal Order of Police understands that the Police Department has been doing more with less for years because we are the ones who have been doing that work. The Police Department has already had to reduce services to the citizens' (closing the Orange Grove and North Gulfport Substations to the public, etc.) and we fear that further cuts to the Police Department would result in further cuts in the services provided. These are services we promised to the citizens. Breaking that promise is hard for a Police Officer because even in this day and time, Police Officers still swear an oath and ideas such as honor, valor, service, and sacrifice are taken seriously. The Gulfport Fraternal Order of Police would love to sit down with Mayor Schloegel and each City Council Member to discuss any and all of the above issues. The Gulfport FOP understands that cuts must be made, but further cuts to Police Officers are hard to swallow when there are line items in the budget that are not necessary.

Sincerely,

The Men and Women of the Gulfport FOP Lodge #107

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