MARTINEZ, Calif. – Until this past week, negotiations between Martinez officials and representatives of the Martinez Police Officers Association (MPOA) have been conducted behind closed doors, as is provided under California law when it comes to labor and personnel matters.
But the MPOA (www.martinezpoa.org) made direct pleas through Facebook Twitter, and a letter to the Martinez News-Gazette, saying Martinez Police Department is having trouble recruiting and retaining officers.
And Wednesday, the city answered, in a statement released through Mayor Rob Schroder.
In its statements, the MPOA said officers are being asked by community members why the department keeps having new faces, or where an officer familiar with residents no longer is connected with MPD.
The association, the labor representative of police officers, said residents are asking who would be working with homeless people and those who are suffering from mental challenges, or where have motorcycle patrol officers who were at schools have gone.
“We believe you deserve an explanation,” the association said. “The Martinez Police Department is facing severe recruitment/retention issues.”
The association said the department has six vacancies in a staff of 37 officers, and three of those are looking for jobs with nearby cities.
“Since 2014, 22 new officers have been employed by the city of Martinez as police officers. Nine have sought better opportunity/pay/compensation with other cities, five have separated from the agency, and only eight remain as officers, which equtes to a retention rate of 37 percent,” the statement said.
Those seeking employment elsewhere city lack of competitive pay and lack of opportunities in their decisions to leave.
The MPOA said a city staff study indicated Martinez Police is about 17 percent behind the average asalary, and is second from the bottom in this county.
“Our administration has had to make cuts in service so that basic services in our city could continue,” the statement said.
Those cuts mean there isn’t a dedicated school resource officer, no officer dedicated to homeless outreach, no dedicated officer to work with the Mental Health Evaluation Team (MHET) program, and no designated traffic officer at schools.
The statement said police command staff, including Chief Manjit Sappal, take turns working patrol shifts to cover for the vacancies, in addition to the administrative responsibilities for day-to-day operations.
The MPOA statement points to the city’s budget reserves of more than $8 million, and said “the economy is vibrant and on the upswing.”
The statement pointed out to such city projects as park improvements that would bring the Clippers baseball team to Waterfront Park. “So, to the MPOA, it seems that the community’s safety is not as important to city leadership as it should be,” the statement said.
It then provided emails for each member of the Council as well as that for City Manager Brad Kilger, urging readers to contact them.
However, the MPOA statement also said, “The City Council recognizes the need for the City of Martinez to be competitive in order to attract highly qualified men and women to serve you as well as to retain the officers who have chosen to stay and be part of this community.”
Schroder’s statement, released through the city’s communications office, acknowledged the MPOA online postings and a letter in the Gazette.
“The MPOA asserts in this statement that the city is not responding to their request for an immediate salary increase, and thus is prioritizing other community issues and projects over the public’s safety,” Schroder’s statement said.
However, he said the city “is making every effort to be responsive to MPOA’s request within the confines of state law.”
He said the city’s management staff, on behalf of the Council, said March 22 that the Council not only recognizes but shares the MPOA’s strong concerns about recruitment and retention.
“The safety of Martinez residents and business owners is of the highest priority for the City Council and, even though the city’s current contract with MPOA is closed and does not expire until June 30, 2019, the city expressed its willingness to discuss a salary increase with MPOA,” the city statement said.
But any actions taken to address the MPOA’s concerns also must take into consideration the impact on the city budget, including changes to other city services and employees. Schroder’s statement said.
And under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA) in the California Government Code, before any changes to police compensation could be made, the parties must engage in the legal “meet and confer” process, he said.
That act governs labor management relations, requiring government employees meet and confer in good faith with labor unions and representatives of recognized employee organizations regarding wages, hours and other employment terms and conditions.
Once the government and the employee organizations reach agreement, they prepare a memorandum of agreement that describe the terms of their resolution, and both parties then give final binding approval
“Last Thursday, the city attempted to initiate that meet and confer process with MPOA in accordance with the MMBA, but they declined to open the relevant sections of their contract,” Schroder’s statement for the city said.
“It is my hope, as well as that of the City Council, that all parties return to the table to discuss more viable options for police officer compensation that will improve the department’s ability to attract and retain officers in a fiscally responsible manner,” Schroder’s statement said.