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Salary increase for police shouldn’t come at the cost of lost jobs

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 22, 2009 7:21 AM

Security and law enforcement are essential to maintaining a stable society. The key to maintaining that security is entrusting a corps of individuals to protect and serve and also adequately motivating and rewarding them. Rarely do these two concepts ever contradict each other — except during a fiscal crisis.

This, unfortunately, is the problem Iowa City faces now. The Iowa City City Council’s decision to provide the unionized police force a 3 percent raise next year runs the risk of leaving the town with an insufficient number of police officers.

There was more than one debated item on the June 16 City Council agenda; however, most debate had died down before the council voted on the measure to grant the raises next year. That is a pity, because this measure may have the largest effect on the city — certainly more effect than other issues the council addressed that night, such as restricting access to a downtown hotel’s lobby during the evening hours or a new definition for disorderly conduct.

The council voted 5-2, with Councilor Matt Hayek and Councilor Connie Champion voting against.

They said they objected not because they were against giving the raises in principle but because Iowa City did not have enough money to pay for the raises and cover other projects as well. Hayek explained his position, stating the raise increase was 3 percent versus approximately 1 percent revenue growth for the city and therefore not proportional.

Mayor Regenia Bailey responded to their objections by describing the alternatives to not giving the raises. She said that if negotiations were to break down at the local level, the city and the union would proceed to binding arbitration in which they would compare the rates in other municipalities and perhaps grant a raise larger than 3 percent. Other unions such as the firefighters’ received raises last year for similar amounts, and it would be unfair not to give the same to police, the mayor said.

Iowa City police have endured much over the last year. The floods of last summer challenged all emergency-response staff, and the police were no exception. Suicides and the homicides last year kept investigators very busy. Assaults occurring downtown stretched patrol forces, requiring overtime from local staff and outside help from other local law enforcement forces. Police received 210 calls and spent 208 hours on Los Cocos alone. They deserve a raise; during normal times, there should be no problem giving it to them.

But these are not normal times. The City Council has many projects it needs to complete, and its budget is spread thin. Flood reconstruction is ongoing, and the city is already challenged with bringing together enough money to implement flood-mitigation projects, such as raising Dubuque Street or moving the north waste-water-treatment plant.

There doesn’t seem like enough money to go around with all these current and ongoing projects, so that raises the question of where the money will come from. Hayek has indicated the money may come from the police, at the expense of other officers’ jobs. The city may have to lay off personnel to pay for these raises, and that could cause serious trouble.

As we pointed out, Iowa City police are already stretched thin. They’ve had to call on Coralville and other communities’ police for assistance in the past, a clear signal that our police force is too small to handle the unique challenges our community faces right now. The security problems the city faces are not located in one area. There are problems on the South Side, as well as downtown. Los Cocos is on the South Side and may continue to pose a problem. There are deep-seated issues in that part of town, if recent altercations are any indication.

The police deserve a raise, but the city also deserves an adequately staffed police force. One should not come at the expense of another.


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