By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
One step beyond: I have been a Dallas police officer since 1989. I was one of the 600 or so officers that attended the city council meeting Mr. Schutze refers to in the "Officer Wacko" article (October 17). I believe that Mr. Schutze missed the point about why we attended that meeting in force, and why we were angry. When I signed up to become a Dallas police officer, I realize that I was not promised a 17 percent pay raise, a 15 percent pay raise or any other cost-of-living raise. I'm not saying that cost-of-living raises aren't necessary; they are. They are necessary to keep us competitive with other area police departments and to ensure we attract the best possible police officers, but that's another issue.
The reason I felt compelled to attend this meeting was because of the council's decision to do away with step increases. I was promised that every two years at my rank of senior corporal, I would receive a 5 percent raise if my performance as an officer met department standards. I was promised that I would receive seven of these step increases over the course of my career. So far, I have received five of these raises. I have two more to go.
In an earlier council meeting, the council voted to do away with the step increases. This issue was not posted on the meeting agenda. I know for a fact that I was certainly blindsided by this action, as were all the other officers who still have step increases coming.
On the day of the meeting Mr. Schutze wrote about, the issue of step increases was supposed to be debated. Mayor Miller removed the item from the meeting agenda and attempted to stifle all discussion on the subject, knowing that the council chambers were overflowing with police officers and firefighters who were at this meeting specifically because of this issue. The people who had signed up to speak were not going to be allowed to speak on the issue of step increases. Thankfully, Councilman Leo Chaney moved to suspend the rules, and the other council members, sans Mayor Miller, voted to allow discussion on this issue. Not only did officers speak against the elimination of the step increases, but many prominent members of the community did as well. After this discussion, it became clear that the council had "seen the light" and was not going to make the mistake that would have crushed the Dallas Police Department. Even Mayor Miller stated that she would not vote to eliminate the step increases.
Were we upset? Absolutely. Were we at times unruly? We were. Were our actions appropriate? I believe they were. As Councilwoman Mary Poss stated at the meeting, Mayor Miller was attempting to take money out of our left pocket to pay our right pocket. During Mayor Miller's successful campaign to defeat the 17 percent pay raise, she promised voters that we would receive a 15 percent raise spread out over three years. It is my belief that that was the reason the 17 percent pay raise issue failed. The voters were led to believe that the police officers and firefighters would receive a fair raise over a period of time.
What Mayor Miller attempted to do would have in fact resulted in a cut in pay for the many officers who have not received all the step increases they were promised when they accepted this job. Young officers in the department would have been faced with the very real possibility that after this October, they may never receive another raise during their career as a Dallas police officer. Remember, the 5 percent raises promised over the next two years are not guaranteed, and the council can, and very well may, renege on this so-called promise.
So yes, I believe our actions were appropriate at the meeting. As Mr. Schutze astutely states, we are not politicians. We are police officers. We are not savvy and have been outmaneuvered by the mayor (not just this one) on several occasions. We have been naïve enough to believe that a promise is a promise. Personally, I hate it when someone breaks a promise to me, especially someone I should be able to trust implicitly. When we realized that we had been lied to, we reacted and reacted strongly. I believe that had we not reacted as we did, we would have lost the step increases forever. Incentive for veteran officers to stay with the Dallas Police Department would have vanished, as would incentive for top recruits to become Dallas police officers.
I realize that right now, in light of current economic conditions, many people may not be sympathetic to our cause of fair pay. But let's keep in mind what the issues are. As of today, my base pay is around $53,500. It has taken me 13 years to achieve this yearly pay. Officers in some surrounding cities make the same amount in five years. Even with the 15 percent pay raise, assuming we receive the promised raises the next two years, the Dallas Police Department will still be near the bottom of the pay scale compared with other metroplex cities. If you think this doesn't make a difference in recruitment and morale, you are wrong. Had Mayor Miller succeeded in eliminating the step increases, the department would have received a blow from which it would never have recovered.