Two weeks after the New Haven Police Department union ratified a contract with the city, police and city officials alike lauded the contract as a potential solution to the city police department’s longstanding recruitment and retention problem.
“I am proud that the administration got this done. But, to be honest with you, it’s been three years. Three years of uncertainty, three years that have cost this department a lot, a lot of strife,” NHPD Chief Otoniel Reyes said at a press conference on the Monday following the Aug. 16 ratification vote. “But we are moving to the future and we are moving with people who are committed and decided to stick it through.”
After three years working without a contract, the New Haven Police Department union — the Elm City Local — ratified a new six-year retroactive agreement with the city by a landslide vote Aug. 16. The contract — which was ratified by a vote of 259 to 13 — still remains subject to the approval of the Board of Alders. The full board meeting vote will take place on Sept. 16, according to the Board of Alders Office of Legislative Services.
The Elm City Local and City Hall have engaged in active negotiations for two years, and in a binding arbitration process since the expiration of the last contract in June 2016, according to mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer.
Elm City Local President and NHPD officer Florencio Cotto Jr. — whom Mayor Toni Harp and Reyes referred to as the “star of all of this” — characterized the moment as one of both relief and joy for the union, stressing that he is prepared to answer any questions that arise from city legislators during the September full board vote.
Upon its passing, Harp said at City Hall that the new contract is an investment in public safety with the goal of attracting “the best and brightest” to city police services. For years, the New Haven Police Department has struggled to maintain its officer base — with roughly 100 of its 495 budgeted positions vacant at the start of the year.
She said that the rigid pay hierarchy corresponding to police officers’ rankings is removed in the new contract, which Harp said will allow younger officers to “get to higher steps” faster.
The contract also reconfigured retirement eligibility — going forward, there will be a cap on the number of officer retirements allowed in any given year. The new cap on permitted annual retirements is 20, according to New Haven Labor Relations Director Thomas McCarthy. For the past two years, the Department saw roughly 18 retirements annually. Three years ago, however, the city saw 34 retirements. New Haven Chief Administrative Officer Sean Matteson said at the press conference that the cap will allow the Department — through lateral hires and the police academy — to “replenish those lost officers.”
Additionally, the contract sets a minimum age for pension collection of new hires — after 25 years of service or at the age of 52 if the officer retires before the 25-year mark. Matteson said that if such a rule had been established over the past five years, the police and fire departments would have saved more than $20 million in payments. He added that he recognizes the efforts and work of the union in “helping to create a more sustainable fund” for pensions through the new contract. Harp added that the minimum age or years of service threshold will “pay dividends” for the life of the contract and for the city’s pension liability.
The contract would also give active-duty officers retroactive reimbursement for past overtime pay at an increased rate and wage increases in installments over a three-year period, according to Matteson.
“The retroactivity of this contract allows the city to budget and plan for those lump sum payments, avoiding any potential shocks to the city’s smooth and predictable cash flow,” Harp told reporters at the press conference.
Matteson described the contract as not perfect, but fair.
“Beyond dollars and cents, there is no understating the value of this agreement. It clearly indicates the extent to which my administration and the city of New Haven admires and respects the men and women of the New Haven Police Department,” said Harp at the press briefing.
At the press conference, Harp alluded to the nonfatal shooting of an off-duty officer, New Haven Police Captain Anthony Duff on Aug. 14. She said that community members do not need to look back further than a week to understand the level of danger police officers face on a daily basis.
Reyes emphasized that the new contract is an investment in not only the city’s officers, but in the community.
“Our officers are out there every single day. Their health, their emotional health, their physical health, their morale goes a long way in the type of service they provide to the community. It’s just human nature,” Reyes said.
He said that the new contract — which he described as an “investment” — sends a resounding message to the officers that the city cares about them and respects the work that they provide.
Cotto is a 13-year veteran of the New Haven Police Department.
Sammy Westfall | email@example.com