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Phoenix city officials want to use the latest round of federal COVID-19 relief money to give Phoenix police officers bonuses, a move that critics say is a slap in the face to other workers and businesses that need help during the pandemic.
The proposal emerged from contract negotiations between the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the union that represents rank-and-file officers in the Phoenix Police Department. The city announced a tentative agreement with the union last Friday, which included the provision about giving officers bonuses with relief funds. The City Council is expected to vote on the agreement this afternoon.
The draft contract includes some wins for police reform advocates, like explicitly allowing investigators who aren’t with the Phoenix Police Department, such as members of a “civilian oversight committee,” to investigate officers. However, it also features across-the-board pay increases for officers, as well as a “non-continuous payment” for the union “agreeing to the City’s transparency and accountability proposals.” The additional one-time payments are seperate from the proposal to funnel relief money to officers.
The agreement states that city officials “will provide” an unspecified amount of premium pay for officers by using money from the recently approved $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, otherwise known as the American Rescue Plan Act. (The relief bill included $350 billion for state and local governments.) The provision is contingent on a separate vote by the city council at the later date. Draft contracts for two other city employee unions that the council is considering, including the Phoenix Fire Fighters Association, also feature the same provision.
Phoenix City Councilmember Carlos Garcia, a long-time proponent of police reform, called the proposal to give officers “premium pay” with federal relief funds an unnecessary “bonus.”
“The police department, they got a lot of overtime in the last year. There’s a lot of incentives in the contract,” he said. “I think there other folks that have shown to deserve a bonus or a boost. The police department is definitely not one of them.”
Garcia added he won’t be voting for the draft contract due to the pay raises and the COVID-19 relief money provision. He argued that the police department, which has come under intense scrutiny this year for its heavy-handed response to protests last summer, police shootings, as well as some officers’ role in giving misleading testimony to a grand jury, hasn’t earned a raise.
Viri Hernandez, executive director of Poder in Action, an anti-police brutality group, said that the draft contract is a “joke.”
“They are trying to bribe the police to sign this contract that will give us minimal transparency,” she said. “There is so much need in our neighborhoods. Undocumented immigrants got excluded from Covid relief money. All this Covid relief money should be used for Covid relief.”
In a statement, Dan Wilson, a spokesperson for Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher, defended the relief-fund provision as lawful and appropriate. He stressed that the council would still have to approve an eventual payment financed by relief money.
“The American Rescue Act Plan (ARPA) contains a provision that allows funds to be used to respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers of the state, territory, or tribal government that are performing such essential work, or by providing grants to eligible employers that have eligible workers who perform essential work,” he said. “If Council decides to allocate a portion of the ARPA funds for this purpose [the union contract] had to include the provision allowing such payments to be made.”
The draft contract includes other minor reform-minded changes. It would give Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams the ability to immediately schedule a pre-termination meeting for officers involved in felony crimes committed while on-duty, bar officers from using vacation time while suspended, and specifies 10 categories of past misconduct that can’t be excluded from how supervisors dictate progressive discipline, promotions, and transfers within the agency. (Those categories include violating the city’s anti-harassment or anti-discrimination policies and intentionally falsifying records.)
But for some, the changes don’t go far enough.
“I think all of those are long overdue,” Garcia said. “I don’t feel comfortable with the pay increases. More than ever, this last year, the police department has proven that it continues to be violent and unaccountable to the people of Phoenix.”
In a statement, Michael “Britt” London, the president of PLEA, praised the final contract agreement and didn’t specifically acknowledge questions about relief-fund bonuses:
“For the past few months we have worked closely with the City of Phoenix to develop a contract that provides appropriate resources for our Phoenix Police Officers,” he said. “The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association led the effort regarding the transparency agreement because it’s the right thing to do to build trust within our community. We are pleased with the end result and look forward to final approval of the contract.”
(Clarification: This story has been updated to include the additional union contracts containing the provision to use federal relief funds for employee compensation.)
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