The Mesa Police Association’s greed could end up hurting their co-workers at the Mesa police department and the community they swore to protect and serve.
Listen up Mesa residents. I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news.
Lets start with the good news.
Serious crime in the city continues to drop. Mesa has a new police chief in Frank Milstead, who looks like he will do the same outstanding job he did during his 25-year career at the Phoenix Police Department. And finally, Mesa prevailed in the “donning and doffing” lawsuit that was filed by the Mesa Police Association.
The case was thrown out of federal court in Phoenix in 2008. The union appealed and the case was thrown out of court again last week, this time by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The police union wanted Mesa to cough up $6.9 million in back pay and future payments of eight hours of overtime per month to compensate officers for getting dressed for work and getting undressed after work. The only two public safety unions in the state that have made this kind of demand are the MPA and its sister organization, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.
MPA president and Mesa police sergeant Fabian Cota, officers Fred Bamonte and Ricardo Perine, and 68 other union members made the demand in the U.S. District Court in Phoenix. The plaintiffs felt they were entitled to almost $100,000 each plus future compensation. Those overtime payments could amount to an extra $400-$500 a month for officers and sergeants who already make $50,000 to $85,000 per year plus retirement benefits after 20 years on the job. Mesa officers also don’t have to pay Social Security tax, which increases their take-home pay by 7.65 percent.
With more than 800 police officers in the department, Mesa was looking at coming up with millions of dollars every year in order to compensate employees for putting on and taking off the very uniforms the Mesa PD pays for. Mesa police officers get $875 annually to purchase uniforms.
Most people, including many government employees, are just happy to still have a job, even if it means pay cuts and mandatory furloughs. The MPA, on the other hand, wanted to grab a bigger piece of a shrinking pie and got slapped down hard by the federal courts.
Now for the bad news.
Mesa’s win in the Ninth Circuit wasn’t free and it wasn’t cheap.
According to the Mesa City Attorney’s Office, the two courtroom wins cost Mesa taxpayers $348,479.79 in attorney fees and costs. That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars Mesa didn’t have to waste on defending the greedy demands from 71 MPA members.
That $350,000 could’ve paid the first-year salary for seven new police officers, 10 police dispatchers or a dozen records personnel.
And now for even more bad news for Mesa residents.
The Mesa police department has been ordered to cut 5 percent more from its 2010-2011 budget. A total of $7.15 million needs to be cut from a budget that’s been sliced and diced for the last three years. And $1.5 million of that has to be cut from departmental staffing.
What Mesa paid to defend the lawsuit would’ve gone a long way toward saving someone’s job if layoffs and furloughs have to be used to meet the next round of police department budget cuts.
In the end the MPA’s greed could end up hurting the plaintiffs’ co-workers at the Mesa police department and the community they swore to protect and serve.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.