Amid homicide spike, Baltimore City walks away from police union negotiations after FOP balks at non-police on the trial board (UPDATED)

Baltimore City's labor negotiators quietly walked away from the Baltimore Police union last week over the issue of whether or not civilians will be placed on a "trial board" for police discipline, according to two Baltimore cops. 

According to two people who were present, but who asked that their names not be printed because they are not authorized to discuss union or police business, in a meeting last Thursday, July 6, officials of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 told members that the administration was refusing to negotiate with the union.

The current police contract expired on June 30, 2016 and was extended by a Memorandum of Understanding to June 30, 2017. The union has been negotiating with the department since March of 2016, trying to get better scheduling than the current four days on, three-off system. The administration has reportedly demanded that two non-police be placed on the department's disciplinary "trial board," and the union balked.

So the administration walked.

Reached by phone last Friday, Mayor Catherine Pugh's spokesman, Anthony McCarthy, began by saying the administration does not discuss contract negotiations, which is a standard response for these kinds of inquiries everywhere. Told that the question was whether there were any contract negotiations, McCarthy seemed confused.

"I know that a meeting took place last week," he said, before promising to follow-up later.

He did not follow-up later. He did not follow up today, either. 

The police department's public information office declined to answer questions as well. Messages left with the FOP Lodge 3 were also not returned. [UPDATE: After publication, President of the Baltimore City FOP Gene Ryan reached out to City Paper and clarified that while the city has cancelled meetings, he still holds out hope.

"They didn't walk away," he said. "They've canceled several meetings, I will say that, but nobody's walked away from the table yet."]

The labor dispute comes amid a record murder rate in Baltimore City. More than 180 people have been killed so far this year, with no sign that the violence is abating.

Negotiations between the two sides have been fitful. According to a memo and "update" Ryan published on the FOP's web site in December, the city's negotiators met with the union in March 2016, when it asked for the civilians on the trial board. There was another meeting on May 4, 2016, after which negotiations stopped until October. At that meeting, management "reiterated its desire to eliminate the 4/10 work schedule and replace it with a 5/2 schedule with permanent shifts and permanent days off," union president Gene Ryan wrote, referring to the schedule in which patrol officers work four 10-hour shifts instead of five eight-hour shifts. 

The next meeting was to be in early December, but "the city cancelled the meeting," Ryan's memo states.

Police rank and file have grumbled for months about the department's brass, chafing under sudden emergency deployments and reassignments, complaining that there is no apparent plan to fight the murder surge that has left more than 180 Baltimoreans dead through Monday morning. Ryan has emphasized that the department is short at least 300 officers.

In a January post on the FOP's web site, responding to figures the police department released to the Sun, Ryan said the actual shortage of patrol officers was more than 500—that is, only about 700 cops were performing "sector patrol" out of the 1,250 required to cover the shifts.

"Currently there are upwards of 200-300 officers that could retire in 2017 and it is no secret that BPD has become a training ground for police recruits intent on leaving for better-paying agencies," Ryan wrote then.

"And they are using the disciplinary process and open internal numbers to keep people from leaving [the department]," a mid-level police manager groused to City Paper (an unresolved discipline case can prevent a police officer from getting a job elsewhere). This officer says most of the people he supervises think Commissioner Kevin Davis is trying to break the union. 

"There have been so many contract infractions," a cop told City Paper. "Now, they are treating our union like shit. It all just shows that they truly don't care about the people who take care of this city. The blood that is being spilled in this city is not on the hands of the police, it's on the hands of the command staff and the city for treating us like shit and not giving us what we need."

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