Lakeville police contract negotiations near breaking point

City, police may go into arbitration

After more than a year of unsuccessful negotiations, the city of Lakeville and its patrol officers union may go into arbitration to resolve disputes involving pay, benefits and internal reorganization.

One last mediated negotiation is scheduled Dec. 19 to address differences that include patrol officers’ concerns about the city’s plan to add a third captain, said Mike Golen, Minnesota Public Employee Association union director.

“They feel management is top-heavy and it is about to be made even more top-heavy,” Golen said. “They do not understand why they are not putting more officers on the streets.”

City Administrator Steve Mielke said the city added a patrol officer this year and is reorganizing to maximize efficiency.

He said Sgt. Andy Bohlen’s recent departure to become Faribault’s police chief opened up the city’s plans to reduce the number of sergeant positions.

The department will eliminate the administrative sergeant position and add the captain position; another patrol officer will be added to replace Bohlen by early next year.

Lakeville Officer Mike Katzovitz, a union steward, said the department has lost five patrol officers through reassignment to joint agencies or the department’s new street crimes unit.

“They didn’t backfill those positions,” Katzovitz said. “Patrol would like to see five officers replaced.”

Lakeville Police Chief Tom Vonhof said cities generally employ one officer per 1,000 residents. Lakeville has one officer per 1,100 residents.

Mielke said the city’s patrol force is appropriate for the number of calls the city receives.

According to the Dakota Communications Center 2011 annual report, there were 31,269 calls to Lakeville’s law enforcement that year; the city has 40 officers in the unit, six are detectives and two are assigned to schools during the school year.

Neighboring city Farmington, less than half Lakeville’s size, has 23 patrol officers, four detectives, two school resources officer and had 11,616 law enforcement calls in 2011, according to the report.

Farmington City Council members have frequently debated whether to cut its police staff, especially since the Farmington School District pulled its share of funding for an additional SRO.

“Adding officers just for the sake of adding officers is not a prudent use of taxpayer dollars,” Mielke said.

The salary range for Lakeville’s police captain positions is $88,675-$106,407; the administrative sergeant position is paid $83,436-$90.238; and officers earn between $50,107-$68,994 under the division’s 2011 contract.

All other city employees have settled their current contracts, but issues arose with this one when the department instituted 12-hour shifts.

Katzovitz said the system looks efficient on paper, but has caused problems for officers who have experienced increased fatigue, stress and lost family time.

Pay equity issues have also risen. Patrol officers have to use 12 hours of their paid time off versus their co-workers who use eight hours for the same day off.

The system has also complicated and caused inequities regarding overtime and holiday compensation, said Golen who noted most police departments employ eight or 10-hour shifts.

“Some departments are trying 12s … but I haven’t got any officers anywhere really happy with it,” he said. “It’s tedious and hard on family life.”

Lakeville patrol officers are asking for increased compensation for the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift.

Vonhof said the 12-hour scheduling gives them more days off, including alternating weekends, allowing for “quality down-time.”

He noted the 12-hour schedule is also most efficient, because it only takes two officers to cover a shift in a 24-hour period, but said he is always looking for alternative scheduling options.

Golen said changes to the city’s health insurance benefits is also a concern that has contributed to the negotiation impasse.

Officers want more choices, not a network plan that requires extra costs for outside-network physicians and clinics.
While both sides expressed a desire for resolution, the city’s last offer apparently did not advance that goal, according to Golen.

“I had a roomful in there,” Golen said. “Their discontent was quite clear. They were downright angry.”

If an agreement is not reached at the mediation session, Golen said the issue will go to arbitration.

“The 19th is going to make it or break it,” Golen said. “I really don’t have time to take it any further.”

Police are considered essential services, so patrol officers cannot strike.

Mielke said arbitration would cost between $5,000 to $10,000 and come out of the police department’s budget.

Vonhof said his officers are professionals, and although the contract is an issue, it is not a barrier to their commitment to the community.

“I know the people and the officers we have here,” Vonhof said. “They are dedicated … and we work together as a team.”