By Dave Malone
When the Washington D.C. Council decided to give themselves a 2.2 percent cost-of-living raise this year, as reported in The Washington Examiner, law enforcement and fire service representatives were none too pleased.
“Only in D.C. would local politicians be greedy enough to take a raise for a six-figure … job while the front-line first responders have not had a raise in more than 5 years,” stated Police Union President Kris Baumann.
He noted that firefighters have not had a raise in six years and cops haven’t had a pay hike in five years–while the legislation mandating cost-of-living adjustments for council salaries was passed six years ago and went into effect the following year.
Eight of the 12 council members accepted this pay raise (equating to about $2,800 this year).
What kind of message does this send to the people who are on the front lines of public safety? It seems unconscionable that council members would accept this raise. Although the article does not go into detail on budget shortages, if the city can’t afford to give raises to the most vital services any community must have, then surely the very well-paid council members should set an example of shared sacrifice.
The financial crisis most communities are facing creates a lot of pressure to have local governments eliminate fat from their budgets. In my opinion, this impression that most local government entities have a lot of fat is false. Most have been cutting budgets for years, with officials trying not to be the one in office who is responsible for raising taxes.
This is especially true in the police and fire services. Very little savings can be achieved anymore from services whose primary costs are personnel costs (usually about 80 percent of police and fire costs). Because of this, many are not providing raises, mandating furloughs or, increasingly, actually eliminating or not filling vacant street level positions. And this is after many years of departments civilianizing previous sworn positions.
While all of this has been going on, many communities continue to strive to raise the tax base by luring business and housing development whenever possible. I understand that need. However, if they are successful, other than infrastructure costs (which are often waived to entice this kind of development), the services most affected are police and fire. They are the ones responsible for providing additional protection to these developments with an increasingly limited staff.
I believe the public should take a close look at what is happening with this council as well as other issues I have discussed. I feel this type of behavior will eventually erode public safety both in short-term morale issues and, more importantly, in long-term recruitment efforts. One reason that most communities have gone to community policing models is because it causes the community to become more involved in their citizenship responsibilities. Not only does this make for cheaper delivery of services, but it also causes those engaged to be better educated about the challenges facing local governments today.
What do you think?
~Dave Malone spent more than 32 years with the Eau Claire Police Department in Wisconsin, including 10 years as its Chief of Police. He also spent six years as the Wisconsin field coordinator with the Mid-States Organized Crime Information Center. Dave is currently a senior law enforcmeent education outreach coordinator with American Military University.