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Long Beach: Future of police department in question if union rejects pact

Long Beach City Council approved a 12-year police

Long Beach City Council approved a 12-year police contract that officers will vote on this week. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Long Beach City Council approved a 12-year police contract Tuesday and warned that the city may not be able to maintain its own department if the police union votes down the contract.

The contract, retroactive to 2015 and based on an arbitrator’s recommendation, is set for a Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association vote Thursday.

“If they don’t ratify it, and approve this contract, my advice is let’s get Nassau County here and talk about alternatives,” labor counsel Terry O’Neil said, referring to the Nassau County Police Department. “I don’t like the optics, but my heart is in it. I do want to have a police department, but it’s not affordable now and it’s not sustainable.”

Long Beach PBA president Brian Wells called the possibility of eliminating the department “a blatant threat,” but would not comment on the proposal.

“We’re going to vote Thursday, and let that speak for itself,” Wells said.

The proposed contract includes a 24% raise over 12 years, but puts limits on payouts, vacation and sick time and requires contributions to health insurance, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by Newsday. 

Council members and O'Neil said they would not publicly discuss details of the contract out of fear it could jeopardize the union vote Thursday. The council approved the pact 3-0, with council members Anthony Eramo and Chumi Diamond absent from the meeting.

“The goals of the city are to have its own police department, but it had to be sustainable. If they continue to make these payouts and benefits, it would not be sustainable," O'Neil said.

The proposal shows no raises from 2015 to 2017, deferred raises to 2019 and incremental raises up to 4% for a total increase of 24.25% over 12 years. Officers hired after Jan. 1, 2020, will be on a 10-step salary schedule and contribute 15% toward health costs beginning in the fifth year, continuing through retirement.

Officers with at least 25 years of service will pay 10% toward health insurance after retirement, starting in 2024. Longevity payouts will be capped for officers after 25 years, and it will also add caps on vacation time at 400 hours and sick time at 25% of up to 400 days.

Final separation payouts will be capped at $275,000 for officers hired after Jan. 1, 2020.

City officials have said PBA employees are generally paid for all their accumulated vacation and compensatory time, but a state audit this month found that did not follow a 2013 arbitration agreement for officers hired before May 2013 that capped vacation at 400 hours and up to 1,600 sick hours or 50%.

A state finance board this year found police and firefighters do not contribute to health insurance, accounting for 30% of the city’s health care costs. The average police and fire payouts ranged from $300,000 to $619,000 and some police officers have retired with as much as 5,900 unused accumulated hours, including sick and vacation time. 

O’Neil said the city needed to control costs to maintain its own level of service compared with the number of patrol cars that would be dictated by Nassau County police. He said any Long Beach officer with more than 20 years of service would not be hired by Nassau County. 

O’Neil said Police Commissioner Michael Tangney, the current union president and two other union members would recommend the agreement to union membership.

O’Neil said if the rank and file does not pass the contract, it would send the city and the union back to arbitration.

The department of 70 full-time officers serves the city of about 35,000 residents and responded to 15,722 calls last year, according to a state finance board.

Several residents urged the council to table the resolution and leave a vote for the incoming council in January.

“I’m not recommending one way or the other, but for me it’s about not knowing anything about a long-term contract that may affect my ability or others' ability going forward,” Councilman-elect Michael Delury said.

O’Neil said there will be no money out of current budgets to pay for previous years and the city asked for concessions to fund previous years that were not budgeted.

The police union has been without a contract since 2008 and a state arbitrator in 2013 awarded back pay and raises through 2015, amounting to a 22.7% raise over seven years. 

Long Beach police officers are paid $165,374 on average, which is the highest among all cities in the state, according to the state comptroller’s office.

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