No ticket strike yet as police try to settle dispute

A DeKalb County police ticket strike hasn't materialized, but the proposal has made officials and residents react.

Over a holiday pay dispute, DeKalb officers on an anonymous blog recently called for their colleagues to issue warnings instead of tickets, preventing the county from collecting revenue.

“I’m addressing it,” Police Chief William O’Brien said of the dispute. “I’m just asking for some time before they do a slowdown.”

Officers apparently have heeded his request.

While police did not respond to a request for weekly ticket totals, records were provided that showed a 2,344 increase in citations from July last year to the same month this year. However, officers last year took part in another ticket strike, one that cost the county $5 million.

Another strike might be averted because Human Resources Director Benita Ransom and O'Brien appear close to a deal to solve the dispute, which arose when the county considered paying officers eight hours of holiday pay rather than the 10 they receive now.

When she was hired a few months ago, Ransom was asked by the county to find ways to save money on benefits. She discovered the police department was spending $525,000 per year by paying officers for 10 hours of holiday pay for 10 holidays, a practice put in place because officers typically work 10-hour holiday shifts. Other county workers receive eight hours of holiday pay.

Officers viewed the change as a loss in benefits. Those who work the holidays now must take two hours from their banked holiday or comp time, or work another two hours, to be paid for a 40-hour week.

“They keep chiseling away our benefits, and the frustration is that they say we are a priority while they do it,” said Sgt. Jeff Wiggs, president of the DeKalb Fraternal Order of Police. “Don’t tell me you support public safety if you’re not willing to show it.”

County commissioners have encouraged a deal to make the policy fair for everyone. One plan calls for officers to receive the same eight-hour holiday pay from the county and the police department to pick up the cost of the additional two hours.

That only solves the problem for police. The county also must figure out how to pay watershed workers, some who work 16-hour shifts, and sanitation workers, who are on duty for 12 hours at a time.

“We want consistent treatment of people across the board,” Chief Operations Officer Richard Stogner said. “We expect our police officers to be professional and do their jobs as we work on that.”

Residents, who consistently support police funding, also have weighed in on this dispute, possibly another reason a ticket strike has been averted.

“Everybody else is losing their jobs and benefits,” said Bubba Crochet, a retired technical manager at a chemical company who lives in north DeKalb. “I’m sorry for them, but we have to run the county as an efficient business.”

Said Robert Blackman, who lives in the Meadows neighborhood near Stone Mountain, “If I call the police, I want the police to show up. Police is the No. 1 priority in DeKalb County. There has to be money for that.”

Officers can't be penalized if they begin issuing warnings instead of citations. The law prohibits the department from mandating ticket quotas.

Still, any revenue loss could limit the county in paying for the added holiday benefit for police or other county employees.

“We are trying to deal with a bad economy and make the best decisions for what limited money and resources we have,” said Larry Johnson, the commission’s presiding officer. “We are not trying to stop somebody from making a living.”