The "Blue Flu" that is.
It doesn't seem to do much for morale at HPD when the Mayor's Chief of Staff gets a $20,000 a year raise and a Ford Explorer SUV City vehicle and the Hartford Police Department has been working without a contract for almost two years now. For more on the "shared sacrifice" and the Chief of Staff's raise, check out the link to Jeff Cohen's blog in the right column
Members of the Hartford Police Union are apparently starting to raise their voices over the fact that they have been without a contract for over 22 months. Several members of the union have called me over the last few days, most talking about the initial planning of "efforts" to get the City administrations attention. According to several sources, a planning meeting is going to be held this week to discuss and "organize" these efforts.
Hartford Police Union President Rich Holton wouldn't discuss specifics of the contract negotiations, but his frustration was clear. Holton did credit acting Police Chief James Rovella with "jumpstarting" negotiations over the last few weeks since his appointment.
Others have told me that there are still major issues to be worked out before a contract agreement can be reached. Among those issues are retiree health care benefits as well as private duty job pay. Currently police officers working private duty jobs are paid straight time for those hours, even though the city recoups and actually profits substantially from the billing for those hours worked.
Another issue being discussed is the privatization of the HPD booking/detention facility. This is apparently being discussed to get more uniformed officers onto the streets, but I'm sure many might question that decision. Booking has been a source of numerous problems, and payouts, for actions of police officers and supervisors working inside that area. I'm not sure that bringing in essentially private security guards is the best choice.
With the current staffing of HPD any slowdown or reduction in the "speed" of services and responses could cripple the already understaffed department.
Others mentioned the possibility of refusing to work "private jobs" which although being costly to the officers, would also cripple construction and road jobs as the warm weather approaches. The MDC project alone may need dozens of officers each day to work on City streets. Under Connceticut State law, Hartford Police officers are required to man those traffic positions as opposed to "flagmen".
A few of the officers I spoke with also expressed their disappointment in what they felt is the lack of a good faith effort by Mayor Pedro Segarra in the negotiations. Unofficially they felt that they stepped up during last years campaign and supported Segarra when mayoral challenger Kelvin Roldan began slinging allegations towards Segarra. The union also endorsed Segarra for Mayor during last November's election. Am potential vote of "no confidence" in Segarra and former Chief Roberts was pretty much squashed when the idea arose last year.
I am not a big union person, but the fact of the matter is that Hartford's police officers probably have some of the toughest working conditions in the state and are well below surrounding towns when it comes to their pay rates. The administration is also well aware that it is costing the City money through attrition when trained HPD officers leave for better pay and benefits in other agencies.
What's fair is fair and the games need to end, Mr. Mayor. For our benefit this contract needs to be settled now.