Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's plan to fix police pay begins

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's plan to fix police pay begins

July 8th, 2014 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Mayor Andy Berke prepares to sign a new police pay plan Monday at the Chattanooga Police Services Center with dozens of duty officers in attendance, recently appointed police Chief Fred Fletcher observing, at far left, and police union leaders at his side. The mayor said years of service will remove questions of pay status for the ranks.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Document: Police Pay Structure

Chattanooga Police Department's new compensation structure.

Document: Memorandum of Understanding

Memorandum of understanding between Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and the Fraternal Order of Police (Rock City Lodge #22), National Black Police Officers Association (Chattanooga Chapter) and the International Brotherhood of Police Officers (Local #673).

More than half of the Chattanooga Police Department will get raises in their next paychecks as Mayor Andy Berke's plan to fix a decade of unequal pay on the force takes hold.

In all, the raises will cost the city nearly $1 million this fiscal year.

Berke's plan, signed into effect Monday as a memorandum of understanding, also puts in place a new pay structure that introduces a 3 percent pay increase every two years based on years of service.

Under the new pay scale, a starting cadet will make $34,118 and a 30-year captain will top out at $77,450.

"We have been working on this for a long, long time. Part of the issue is when you fix something like this that affects so many people it is hard," Berke said to a large group of officers at the police department. "We've tried to work toward one that was right for y'all but also sustainable during my administration and beyond."

About 255 officers from officer to captain -- out of 444 officers on the payroll -- will see catch-up pay increases in their next bimonthly paycheck. The raises will vary in amount. Further raises will continue annually until the officers are within their correct range based on years of service and time in rank.

Berke said most of the inequities will be addressed in the first two years. But some will take about four years to complete -- beyond his first term in office.

Human Resources Director Todd Dockery said the four-year plan is necessary to ensure no officers have their pay docked. Instead, the pay of officers on the upper end of the disparities will be frozen until those on the lower end catch up.

About 127 officers will have their pay frozen, most from one to several years.

Union leaders say this fix goes a long way to repair years of problems on the force that allowed starting officers to make more money than their supervisors, saw some officers paid thousands more than others with similar rank and experience and led to two lawsuits.

Officer Patrick Fugitt, center right, and dozens of Chattanooga police officers listen as Mayor Andy Berke signs a new police pay plan Monday at the Chattanooga Police Services Center. The mayor said years of service will remove questions of pay status for the ranks.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Both lawsuits filed by the local Fraternal Order of Police are pending, but FOP president Sean O'Brien said he believes it would be in everyone's best interest to settle them.

"It's always been our goal that we can all get back to what we're supposed to be doing, protecting the city," O'Brien said. "Not being distracted by other stuff."

Overall, Berke budgeted nearly $1 million for the fixes that came from savings from the fire and police pension reforms. Dockery said this new pay plan should stay within that budget this year, but still could be higher than anticipated because officers will receive scheduled years-of-service raises as they reach their anniversary starting dates.

This new pay plan also allows starting officers to calculate their salary throughout their careers.

That is a good tool for attracting quality officers, even recruiting them from other larger markets, said Rob Simmons, president of the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers.

"Anyone wanting a job here will be able to look ahead and see what they would be making in 10 years," Simmons said. "With the adjustments, this will attract a higher-educated workforce."

This plan doesn't affect the Chattanooga Fire Department, which Dockery said he is working separately to study.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.