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No raises for police officers, Tampa City Council decides

TAMPA — They heard the story of a police officer shot at a routine traffic stop and another who stanched the flow of blood from crime victim's stab wound.

They heard about the pain of attending the funeral of a slain colleague and the fear that a day at work could end in death.

"I've been spat upon, punched, kicked, had broken bones and shot at in this job," Officer Colin McCoy said.

But it wasn't enough to sway Tampa City Council members, who voted 5-1 Wednesday not to give police officers raises this year due to budget constraints.

Only council member Joseph Caetano sided with the officers, who showered him with cheers and a standing ovation.

"Times are tough and times are going to get tougher. And there's going to be more crime," said Caetano, a former police officer. "I don't think that we should not give these (raises). They need it."

Before the vote, officers talked about leaving other law enforcement agencies for Tampa because of the promise of annual raises during their first 11 years with the department. They also spoke of the danger and difficulties they face every day on the streets.

Officer Paul Madson was among those who brought up Cpl. Mike Roberts, who was fatally shot in the line of duty in August. Roberts' widow, Cindy Roberts, was at the hearing.

"We do a job and we bear a burden that no one else does," Madson said. "We have watched our brothers and sisters bleed and die in the street."

Union attorney Diane Morton invited officers who have arrested armed suspects or fought with someone they thought wanted to kill them to stand or raise their hands. A huge portion of the room responded.

"You have soldiers and you have civilians," she said. "These are your soldiers."

The tight city budget might mean that rank-and-file employees shouldn't get raises this year, but police officers are different, she said. She noted that earlier this week, when news broke that four uniformed officers were killed near Seattle, Tampa police officers still reported for duty.

"We expect them to be courageous. We know them to be fearless," she said before sitting down to thunderous applause.

The union and Mayor Pam Iorio hit an impasse in contract negotiations in July, with Iorio refusing to budge on her plan to freeze the salaries of all city employees in the 2010 fiscal year.

The union agreed not to pursue cost-of-living raises this year but wanted to keep so-called step increases given to police officers in their early years on the force as they work toward becoming master patrol officers.

In the past two years, officers who qualified received annual step increases of about 4.2 percent. The city says it would cost about $1.7 million a year to give the increases to the 500 or so officers who qualify for them. Union officials, who represent about 900 sworn officers, say the figure is actually $850,000.

With Iorio and the union unable to come to agreement, the contract, which expired Oct. 1, went to the City Council.

Hundreds of police officers and their families descended on City Hall for the hearing. They filled the council chambers, forcing a delay until the overflow crowd could be thinned out at the request of the city fire marshal.

Council member Linda Saul-Sena said the emotional testimony made the vote difficult.

"We value you, we honor you, and we are so grateful that you are serving in our city. I just don't know where we're going to get the money," she said.

Council chairman Tom Scott apologized to the officers for the entire hearing. "We ask you to go out and put your life on the line," he said. "It's unfortunate that today, when you go out and put your life on the line, it equates to dollars and cents."

The council also voted in favor of Iorio's request that about 65 officers who received step increases in the past two months under the old contract pay the money back. Union officials say they will appeal that decision to the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission.

After the hearing, officers filed out, looking dejected. "It will take a couple days to get past this one," said union vice president Rick Cochran.

Union president Greg Stout said officers have worked harder in recent years to reduce crime and just months ago lost a colleague when Roberts was killed.

"This is how we've been repaid," he said. "The accolades that they've thrown out, to me, fall short."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

No raises for police officers, Tampa City Council decides 12/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 3, 2009 12:08am]
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