Hot hot hot here Thursday afternoon on Alabama Avenue S.E., along a ridge in the highlands above the Anacostia River. The pavement in a shopping center down the street from the Seventh Police District headquarters is sending up waves of heat. I stopped for a cold drink.
I was on a mission to find a talkative cop.
Over the past few weeks I had been walking the halls of the U.S. District courthouse on Constitution Avenue to cover the downfall of council members Kwame Brown and Harry Thomas, Jr. On three separate occasions, people I had never met tapped me on the shoulder, took me aside and asked me to write about the police union contract.
Must be related to a cop, I figured.
It's not a new subject for me. Facts are, cops in D.C. have not had a raise in five years. The police are operating under a contract that expired in 2007. The District and the Fraternal Order of Police have been negotiating on and off -- mostly off -- ever since. The Public Employees Review Board ordered the two sides back to the table in October. They have met eight times in the past eight months.
By law, Chief Cathy Lanier cannot play a role in the negotiations. But she has been actively negotiating her own deal with the District. Last month she inked a contract that would raise her annual salary above $250,000, plus bonuses.
Good for her. The chief started as a street cop in 1990. She rose up the ranks, moved into the command structure and became chief in 2007, at a salary of $175,000. She's presided over five years of relative calm and declining homicide rates, though violent crime has been on the rise of late.
What sent me on my mission was a minor snafu in the chief getting her raise. According to the police union, her contract violates a law the council passed last year to reform and limit executive pay. In order to make Lanier's new contract comply with the 2011 law, the council must pass a special act that circumvents it. The Lanier law -- council bill 19-778 -- is before the council.
I figured it was time to sound out a cop on the pay matter. A patrol officer rolled up as I was walking out of the store on Alabama Avenue. I asked about Lanier's raise.
"She's gotten bonuses and increases as chief at the same time us street cops have gotten zero," he said. "How is that fair?"
Homicides are down, I said.
"Who's actually making the arrests?" he asked.
The cop has been on the force for 24 years. He started at $24,300. Now he's pulling down closer to $78,000. Not too shabby.
"But I have been at it for more than two decades," he said.
Under the old contract, which is still in effect, a recruit starts at $48,715. A detective starts at $60,893. A sergeant comes in at $66,161.
"Morale sucks," he said. No surprise there. "People are not as productive as they could be."
That's a problem. Time for Mayor Vince Gray to motivate his labor negotiators to be as generous with street cops as he has been with Chief Lanier.
Motivated cops are a must, especially when D.C. gets hot.
Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.