Get ready for another round in local government's most rancorous ongoing scuffle. The Indianapolis Police Department's contract expires Dec. 31. The city and the police union are about to begin negotiations for a new agreement.
Both sides sound optimistic about the chances for a smooth process. But that could quickly change when they get into the nitty-gritty of wage proposals and concessions.
The parley over IPD's last contract took two years. At its nadir, the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Mayor Bart Peterson's election opponent and demonstrated against him. Since then, the FOP has been a continual thorn in Peterson's side. Its opposition was one of the key factors that sunk the merger he proposed between IPD and the Marion County Sheriff's Department.
The city and FOP met once this fall, but mutually agreed to delay IPD contract negotiations until after the police merger question was settled. Sgt. Vince Huber, FOP Lodge 86 president, is pushing for a one-year contract with a 5-percent salary increase for every IPD officer. Indianapolis Corporation Counsel Kobi Wright hasn't finished crafting his counterproposal, but plans to have it ready when he meets Huber within the next few weeks.
In 2005, Indianapolis spent $95 million on IPD salaries and benefits, or 36 percent of its $260 million public safety budget. That's 18 percent of the $534 million city budget. A 5-percent wage increase would cost roughly another $4.7 million.
But with city coffers nearly empty, Wright doesn't have much flexibility for his offer. He said it will be made with the city's dire financial picture foremost in mind.
"Obviously, we're going to have to consider the fiscal strength of the city as it relates to funding public safety. It's been well documented that's a real challenge," Wright said. "Hopefully, the FOP has been following, and I know that they have, the very long discussion that has occurred about our public safety funding challenges."
Financial shortfalls have already forced the city to leave 78, or 6.5 percent, of its 1,196 IPD positions unfilled after officers retired or quit. This summer, while lobbying for the police merger, Peterson warned he would have to cut another 48 cops if his plan failed, bringing total force reductions to more than 10 percent. But after the City-County Council voted down the plan 15-14 last month, Peterson backed away from that threat.
Huber said he wants to see IPD's ranks bolstered back to their former levels, as long as the 5-percent raises are across the board. He claims the city has plenty of untapped resources if it wants to prioritize public safety.
"We cannot afford to lose any more officers," Huber said. "The streets will not be safe."
The FOP also has floated a number of other public safety revenue ideas over the years, from false alarm response fees to taxes on restaurants and hotels. Some of its ideas ended up in the mix that funded the new Colts stadium and convention center expansion. The FOP has repeatedly used that as ammunition in its argument that public safety isn't the city's highest priority.
"We're being very friendly and accommodating this time around. We realize that the city is having financial problems," Huber said. "Notice I didn't say hardships. Clearly, it's a question of priorities when the city and county can fund a multimillion-dollar stadium and convention center."
The IPD's current contract was a threeyear agreement, although by the time both sides signed it in early 2004, its term was almost halfway finished. As with previous contracts, if a new one isn't settled before the old one expires, an evergreen clause will keep cops on the job. Any wage or benefit increases will likely be retroactive once a new agreement is struck.
The FOP wants a one-year deal for IPD this time because it wants all three of the city's main public safety agencies to negotiate their next contracts simultaneously.
Parity clauses in previous MCSD and Indianapolis Fire Department contracts allowed those agencies to receive any additional raises or benefits IPD negotiated. The FOP has frequently complained that the other agencies left the hardest struggle for IPD, rather than face Peterson's ire themselves.
"We'd like to bargain for our members only, and not be given the excuse that not only do we have to give it to you, but to the IFD also," Huber said.
The FOP may also be anticipating that the police merger question will return in the second half of next year. There's a slim chance the City-County Council might revive the merger in January. But as far as the Peterson administration is concerned, it's time to move on.
"I'm operating on the presumption that consolidation, as proposed by the mayor, was defeated," Wright said. "It's now time for us to start moving forward with the negotiation."