Richarson: Mesa, Phoenix police unions put their wallets ahead of public safety - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Richarson: Mesa, Phoenix police unions put their wallets ahead of public safety

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Posted: Saturday, June 28, 2008 9:02 pm | Updated: 9:58 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

My top three reasons why Mesa Police Association members think they should be paid to get dressed for work (inspired by a story in the Fresno Bee):

3. It's stressful looking in the mirror and wondering if the Glock on one hip and a Taser on the other makes your butt look big.

2. Doughnut fingers make dressing difficult.

1. Because they're greedy.

Monday's Tribune story by Katie McDevitt, headlined "Cops want pay to get in, out of uniform," told how Mesa and Phoenix police union members want back pay and future overtime for putting on their pants, shirts and shoes. The Mesa union wants $6.9 million in back pay and future overtime pay of eight hours a month. That alone would take an extra $5 million a year out of the Mesa Police Department's already shrinking budget.

Mesa doesn't have the money, and neither does anyone else.

Arizona Police Association executive director and union lawyer Dale Norris said it takes an officer "20 to 30 minutes each day to dress and undress."

That's slower than a teenager getting dressed for the prom.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix by union president Sgt. Javier Fabian Cota and 68 other officers, including Fred Bamonte and Ricardo Perine, was thrown out of court by Judge Neil Wake in April, but not before Mesa spent $187,611.55 defending the charges.

Cota and his crew are appealing. Mesa could end up spending $1 million in legal costs before it's over. That's money that could pay for a dozen school resource officers.

The union based its lawsuit on a U.S. Supreme Court decision involving industrial workers who were required to dress at work, wear employer-supplied safety equipment, walk some distance to their work stations and whose pay didn't start until they were there.

That's not how it works in Mesa.

In January, with planned citywide pay raises, Mesa officers will make $78,000 a year, the highest in the state.

Mesa officers get $875 annually to buy uniforms and $750 for body armor; also, all duty equipment is supplied and can be kept at home, 20-year retirement, affordable health insurance while working and in retirement, and they pay no Social Security taxes. That means they get about $500 a month more in take-home pay.

And the union wants even more.

Mesa firefighters will go to $60,000 a year. U.S. Border Patrol Agents make $65,000.

In a Jan. 24 Tribune story about Mesa police facing a $7.2 million budget cut, Cota was quoted as saying, "The sad part is we're going to be providing inferior service to what we have in the past. ... It kind of gets me to wonder if all that crime-fighting is going to be negated."

While non-essential police services decline thanks to nationwide economic problems, Cota and his union are suing for millions Mesa doesn't have to spend. Thankfully only a handful of city employees think they should get more than anyone else.

The Mesa Fraternal Order of Police and United Mesa Firefighters, two employee organizations with a record of putting duty and community first, aren't part of the lawsuit.

So far only Norris' APA union members in Mesa and Phoenix have caught the entitlement bug. But that could change if the union greed virus spreads. A massive lawsuit by the APA against Arizona law enforcement agencies could financially cripple the war on crime.

Mesa police sergeant and Arizona FOP president Bryan Soller scoffed at the idea of the union wanting to get paid "to put their pants on."

Requests for comments from union officials went unanswered.

The union is exercising its constitutional right to sue the government. Should they lose, again, Mesa should exercise its rights and ask the court to order those who sued to reimburse the cost of defending the lawsuit that was based on personal greed and a grandiose sense of entitlement.

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