Police union contract slipped through with little reform

The process tells you everything you need to know about the new Fraternal Order of Police contract with the city, approved by Louisville Metro Council last week. Politicians flock to cameras to announce something positive: big-dollar projects, ribbon-cuttings, bill-signing ceremonies. The opposite is true of less-popular or more-controversial initiatives and votes. So, of course, the council scheduled votes on the new Fraternal Order of Police contract for the first week of November. What else could have been going on more important than streaming Metro Council meetings?

On the eve of the election, the Labor and Economic Development Committee passed the FOP contract by a 6-4 vote, which then passed the full Council three days later by a 16-10 vote. That is all we need to know about how popular this agreement would be with a community marching for reforms to its police department: The Council knew it was only going to enrage those feeling the oppression of injustice, and they passed it anyway.

Police accountability? How about an 8% raise in base salary, instead. How about a stipend to live in certain areas of the community.

There are legitimate reasons for adopting these changes. The department does need to improve recruitment and be competitive enough to hire quality officers. But, these raises can’t come without concurring reforms demanded by citizens, council members, and which were promised by the Mayor Fischer.

Many around the city have demanded that the officers involved in killing Breonna Taylor be fired. Fischer hid behind the old FOP contract as the reason he cannot fire the officers, but reassured us: “If I could change anything, I would,” he announced to justice protesters the first week of June. This new collective bargaining agreement proves that wasn’t true — Fischer wouldn’t “change anything” given the opportunity — this was the opportunity, and city negotiators didn’t push for this or many of the reforms that were announced along with the Breonna Taylor settlement.

One of the city’s top negotiators actually testified before the labor committee that he (the city) wanted to be fair to police officers who haven’t had a wage increase that kept up with the cost of living in over two years.

“It felt necessary because the men and women of the police department, the officers and sergeants, had been well over two years without what we call a ‘COLA,’ cost of living wage increase, while many other employees under negotiated contracts had received them. And we didn’t want to hold up that process any longer, to be fair to them,” said Mike Carrell, a labor contract negotiator and author who served five terms as city alderman in the late-1980s (now at Northern Kentucky University). If he’s negotiating on behalf of the city, what’s the other side arguing about?

Police deserve a livable wage — there is no debate about that — but so do a lot of people. And, only the police have qualified immunity for killing someone while on the clock. Interim-police Chief Yvette Gentry told the council committee that police policies are not included within collective bargaining agreements. Carrell said they aren’t normally done in these agreements, but could be. No, they should be.

Council Member Keisha Dorsey argued that this half-measure agreement will only inflame the public. She’s right: Anything good about this agreement is overshadowed by the missing reforms, and undertaking something so critical to this community, at this juncture, without public engagement is reason enough to oppose it.

This is why she appealed to David Yates, chair of the labor committee, to hold special public hearing on the contract agreement, as well as a publish a public education document outlining what this contract does, what the Council can and can’t do, and what needs to be done at the state level to allow incorporating the remaining reforms the city is clamoring for. But, apparently, that was too much to ask. Then again, perhaps the majority of the Council didn’t want the public’s engagement. It’s a short-term agreement that expires at the end of June 2021.

Negotiations on a new, long-term deal are set to begin before the end of January, presumably after a new, full-time chief of police is hired and a top-to-bottom department review is completed. Perhaps then, the Council will involve the public on a scale that Dorsey and others are demanding. Don’t be surprised, however, if Fischer and council leadership decide to pass a long-term contract while most of the city isn’t looking. If this deal is any indication, they’ll be voting on it the first Saturday in May.