Escondido Police fight to stay competitive during pay negotiations

When it comes to law enforcement, the Escondido Police Department tends to lead California regarding rule-of-law policies. Police Chief Jim Maher prides himself on enforcing immigration and traffic safety laws on the books-sometimes to the chagrin of illegal-immigration activists. So when the issue of officer salaries boiled to the surface, the Chief knew negotiations wouldn’t be easy.

The Escondido Police Department (EPD) union leaders knew their salary negotiations would center on campaign promises made by the new Mayor Sam Abed. During the Mayor’s hotly contested political race, he informed voters he would reform employee unions to save the city money.

According to Police Department Union officials, the city’s police department salaries are the lowest in the county and risk turning the nationally acclaimed police department into a training ground for other cities that offer much higher wages.

“Each police officer trainee costs the city more than $100,000 to train. Once a rookie finishes the academy a veteran officer must then patrol with the recruit for a year,” said Frank Huston, Escondido Police Officer and head of the department’s union.


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“Right now we are in a waiting pattern with city Mayor Abed regarding our salaries,” Huston explained. “I’m concerned; really concerned we are on the verge of becoming a training ground for other police departments.”

A similar policy in San Diego resulted in the loss of dozens of officers who chose to move laterally to better paying police departments once they finished their training. The city of San Diego is a top 10 metropolitan city and a SDPD Police officer resigns every six days.

In an effort to avoid the same fate, the Escondido Police Chief sent a memo to the City Council regarding a pay freeze that points out the north county city is dead last when it comes to police officer compensation.

The memo encourages the city to restore six officer positions (to keep up with the growing population), create a second tier retirement plan and have the police department employees contribute nine percent to offset pensions.

“We’ve made concessions in the past to accommodate the city council’s needs,” Huston said. “Now it’s time for the city to work with its officers.” He continues to explain that many EPD dispatchers make more than beat officers with three to five-years of experience.

The memo continues to highlight that EPD is aware of at least 13 veteran officers seeking employment at other higher-paying police departments. And, on average, these lateral transfers will put an additional $12,000 per year into officers’ bank accounts. The memo also indicates that police officers do not retire with six-figure salaries, but closer to $75,000 after 30 years of service (which is the exception not the rule).

While many cities in Southern California see crime statistics rise, Huston says EPD’s crime number has gone down under the leadership of Chief Maher.

The Chief continues to pursue and receive grants from the state of California to hold sobriety and traffic safety checkpoints every-other weekend. Despite protests from open border activists, the Escondido checkpoints have garnered national attention.

“We were recently nominated by MADD for a national safety checkpoint award,” said Lt. Tom Albergo, a 28 year veteran of the Traffic Division.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) picked the Escondido Police Department after they sent a representative from the east coast to monitor the every-other-weekend sobriety/driver’s license checkpoint.

“There are only six police departments in the country up for the award and our officers’ hard work has paid off,” Albergo explained. “Since we started implementing the checkpoints, our traffic accident statistics have steadily decreased.”

A sampling of results showed that EPD’s 2005 hit and runs fell from 660 to 428; all accidents fell 1,632 to 1104; DUI injury accidents fell 152 to 87 and total traffic injuries fell 1,399 to 898. Overall the city of Escondido has lowered various crimes.

While residents enjoy the benefits of a safer community, (crime is down 24 percent from last year) the Escondido Police Department just wants the city council to honor contracts both parties have agreed to and unfreeze the step raises. “I know it’s popular to disparage unions right now,” Huston said. “We’ve all seen the Wisconsin problems, but I just ask the city to recognize our work is labor-intensive and dangerous. Our officers have worked hard to bring down the overall crime rates, and they deserve to have salaries comparable to neighboring cities.”

Huston also points out those officers don’t get Social Security (even though they pay into it) “and the union has agreed to make concessions with new hires. We just want the city to honor our previous agreements.”

When looking for answers to the city’s hard line on police contracts, some officers within the Escondido Police Department contend that the “by-the-book” enforcement of illegal aliens that make up a large chunk of the city’s 147,000 population (approximately 40 percent are Hispanic) is a key reason why the department is being held to the lowest pay scale in the county.

Recently Escondido Mayor Abed told the North County Times that “it might be wise to exempt companies (from E-Verify) that do only occasional business with the city.”

Escondido became the first city in San Diego County requiring private contractors run employees through E-Verify to ensure no illegal aliens were on the payroll. But, issues arose when city staff forgot to include the E-Verify provision in its annual contracts valued under $25,000.

“We’d like to require E-verify for all companies doing business with the city, but we have to make sure it doesn’t create a bloated bureaucracy and some problems for us,” Abed said. “The key is making sure we include companies that regularly do business with the city.”

Escondido Councilwoman Olga Diaz, who voted against the city’s requirement to mandate E-Verify and does not like the EPD sobriety checkpoints, explained the divisive E-Verify policy stance is nothing more than showmanship. “It’s a complete waste of time to even bring this up because this policy is not being enforced,” Diaz told the Times regarding the city’s E-Verify honor-system program. “Adopting the policy was a symbolic move that was all about chest-puffing, and I don’t think we ever need to talk about it again.”

Setting all the politics aside, one EPD detective pointed to the police department’s policy of “doing what it takes to get the job done” as a benefit for working with Chief Maher. “It’s why we have a top-notch department year after year.”

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© Copyright 2011 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.

About thekdreport

Investigative journalist

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