A Common Thread

Overarching themes in the communications from the New Bedford Police Union will not be groundbreaking in any way. The topics which have been, and will continue to be discussed have been written about by many and spoken of by many more in days gone by. Our goal is to provide accurate information which may sometimes be overlooked, brushed aside, or forgotten, in order to paint a clearer picture for those who are interested in viewing it. 

The language we used to describe the current staffing situation affecting our members was done so to convey the importance of taking positive steps to address a clear problem in a timely manner. Making such statements may not be convenient or reassuring, but the truth sometimes has that effect. 

The hope is that our message allows for open dialogue and meaningful action to address the concerns of our community as well as our members. We are well aware of the concerns of both groups because of the amount of attention given to policing and the issues surrounding policing in the recent past. It is crucial that the concerns of those groups be addressed in order to demonstrate that the assurances made by those chosen to lead were not made simply in order to appease. 

Recent attention given to these concerns through local media outlets has been a step in the right direction. In addition to insight provided by those covering the stories, input has also been provided by city officials as well as local residents. As is the case with many discussions which revolve around policing, certain topics have been broached. Some of the topics are laid out in the collective bargaining agreement between the City of New Bedford and our union. Addressing some of those topics as well as the recent discussions surrounding them may assist in providing clarity to those interested. We will address one of the most discussed police topics in this article. 

Officer compensation is a barnacle on the boat when it comes to discussions around policing. Salaries are often listed in local publications, and, as Jack Spillane pointed out during a recent on-air conversation with a caller on Tim Weisberg’s show on WBSM, officers are among the top earners with regard to salaries for city employees. It is important to note that in addition to base pay, the posted salaries include overtime and paid details. Paid details are usually an area of some confusion with regard to who is responsible for paying wages. 

Mr. Spillane suggested that the city may be able to save money by allowing flagmen to work city details. A problem with that suggestion is that the vast majority of the work done which requires details is that the City of New Bedford is not paying the officers those wages. The companies or contractors performing the work are responsible for paying the officers who are at the work sites, not the City of New Bedford. The city is only responsible for the cost of details in limited instances involving city personnel. 

Paid details are a contractual benefit afforded to officers. In the case of new officers, the detail rate may be approximately twice their normal hourly pay rate. If the possibility of working extra paid details is absent, without any change to the pay for new officers, it will most likely result in a further decrease in the ability to recruit and retain officers. Because of this, the ability of officers to work paid details benefits the city as well as the officers, especially considering the pay rate of new officers.

It should also be stressed that overtime or detail earnings are in addition to a forty-hour work schedule. In many cases, top earning officers are working more than forty hours on a regular basis. While the decision not to force officers for uniform patrol overtime by the administration may be seen as relieving them from being overworked, many officers still choose to work details to supplement their relatively low hourly pay rate. In conversations with a number of newer members, they have made it clear that they would voluntarily work overtime if they were able to earn a similar rate to what they are paid for details.  

Burnout and stress are also concerns when examining the hours worked by officers on a weekly basis. Considering that officers are operating day-to-day with such great responsibility during their normal work shifts, paid details offer the ability to earn a competitive wage without constant exposure to the unpredictability of patrol duties. While working a patrol shift, officers are often operating in a state of heightened situational awareness. It is clear that there is no routine call for service. Response to a seemingly straightforward call for service may escalate unexpectedly at any time. When such considerations are taken into account, the decision to work a paid detail can sometimes be seen as a way to decompress from the uncertainties of patrol duties. 

Like those employed in fields outside of policing, stress is also present with regard to life outside of their jobs. When considering cost of living, their own wellbeing and that of their family, people want to put themselves and their families in the best position possible. Police officers are no different. If a choice is present between earning less and earning more, many if not all would choose the latter. If the choice does not exist at their current place of employment, it is understandable that many would seek out an employer that offers increased benefits or compensation. Unfortunately, seeking employment by another agency is a trend which currently exists within the New Bedford Police Department. 

During one of the WBSM on-air conversations regarding the City of New Bedford residency requirement with Marcus Ferro, a caller made a statement which has been common in many different conversations when referring to police officers and their chosen profession. It is a statement which can be applied to many of the issues we would like to examine further. The statement was, 

“That’s the business you’ve chosen.” 

Unfortunately, there have been sweeping changes in the field of policing and two very clear points should be made. With regard to hiring and retention, many are not making that choice to work in this business, and others are choosing to leave the New Bedford Police Department in order to work in communities who offer increased benefits and compensation. Expecting those facts to change without addressing the underlying issues is an effort in futility. Much like putting a band-aid on a broken bone does little to address the actual problem. 

The Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) was quoted by Jack Date in an article published by ABC News. The New Bedford Police Union referred to that article in a piece which discussed the importance of training. Executive Director Chuck Wexler was quoted in the ABC article as saying, 

“There has to be a national commitment to want to fundamentally train … and to compensate police at a level that makes them professionals”

Considering the source, we think he might be onto something. 

Articles, recorded episodes, and livestreams from Marcus Ferro and Tim Weisberg can be found at:
www.wbsm.com

The work of Jack Spillane can be found at:
www.newbedfordlight.org

The article by Jack Date for ABC News can be found at:

https://abcnews.go.com/amp/US/police-training-us-falls-short-compared-rest-world/story?id=96729748

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