Months into City Hall’s contract negotiation with the New Haven police union, uncompetitive wages for rookie officers and body camera installations have come up as key issues in the current round of bargaining. The existing contract, first implemented in March 2013, expired last June but is still in effect until a new contract is signed.

Dubbed Elm City Local, the police union represents the New Haven Police Department’s full-time and permanent investigatory and uniformed officers up to the rank of Major. ECL bargains on behalf of NHPD officers in the ongoing negotiations, and City Hall has hired Floyd Dugas, a senior partner at the law firm Berchem, Moses & Devlin, as its chief negotiator.

Due to the ground rules of the negotiation, neither party is at liberty to divulge specific terms or clauses that are currently under discussion. Yet ECL President and NHPD officer Craig Miller said the significant salary difference between New Haven rookie officers and those who work in suburban police departments is a crucial element in negotiations.

According to Miller, New Haven rookie officers are paid a yearly salary of $44,000 once they complete field training at the police academy. After three years of service — including the year they spend in training — Miller said, the officers’ salaries rise to $68,000. However, officers who work for police departments in surrounding towns usually start their careers with a salary above $70,000, Miller said.

Miller said that although he cannot pinpoint the reason behind the decades-long wage disparity, the varying financial situations in cities and their departments is a possible cause.

“While officials in state government and cities across the state are giving raises and increased benefits to their administrators, they decline to give raises to the blue-collar workers, professional union employees, and police and fire personnel who help their state and cities function,” Miller said.

On a radio show hosted by the New Haven Independent, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp said the current salary system as sketched out in the existing contract makes it easy for newly trained officers to jump ship to suburban departments.

According to Harp, as each officer in field training is given a first-year salary, the New Haven Police Academy spends around $65,000 per trainee. But these officers end up only receiving a raise two years after they complete their training, which is an unusual practice in the work force, Harp said.

She added that the union’s contract dictates that rookie officers must pay $3,000 if they choose to leave the NHPD within their first two or three years, which is disproportional to the amount they stand to gain by transferring to another department.

“One of the things that we are looking at is tightening up the first three years, and I don’t know what the amount will be because those are being negotiated by our staff and by the unions,” Harp said. “It should really cost outside towns more than $3,000 to pick up someone we have invested $65,000 [in].”

Installing body cameras is another issue on the negotiating table, according to City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer, who added that the discussion’s focus is on the scope of how the cameras should be used in the field. The use of body cameras by NHPD officers, a topic that has been in discussion for more than a year, previously stalled because its implementation requires the union’s permission. 

Dugas, constrained by negotiation rules from commenting further, confirmed that the bargaining process has been ongoing for almost a year and said a specific timeline is hard to determine because contract negotiation “takes on a life of its own.”

ECL, which is affiliated with the Connecticut Alliance of City Police, has 450 members.