The city's police union has suspended a vote on a proposal that would allow officers to use city-owned police cruisers for personal use for a $50 monthly fee.
In a message posted on the Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge #4 website Wednesday, Det. Jason Rothermund, president of the FOP, said the vote was suspended because of misleading statements made by Mayor Jim Gray's staff Tuesday during an Urban County Council Public Safety Committee meeting. Rothermund pointed out that the statements were printed in Wednesday's Herald-Leader.
Jamie Emmons, chief of staff for Gray, said the FOP decided to limit the use of police cruisers during collective bargaining in 2012 as a way to cut costs. Facing budget deficits, the city had asked for concessions from all of the city's unions.
The current policy limits police officers to driving their cruisers to and from work. Officers with second jobs can pay a $50 monthly fee.
"This statement has contaminated the voting process, so the vote must be suspended," Rothermund said in his statement. "The police officers of this city deserve better than to be blamed for the lack of police presence on the streets, which in turn is being blamed for the recent spike in violent crimes in Lexington."
Rothermund said the city had proposed the reduction in use for police cruisers as part of the collective bargaining process. The city wanted more than $5 million in concessions from the police union, he said.
Since the FOP agreed to those cuts, the city has had two consecutive years of surpluses.
"This concession along with the suspension of pay and benefits made by the FOP was given to help the city with a financial deficit, which ultimately led to a surplus of approximately $14 million dollars," Rothermund said.
Rothermund was not immediately available for further comment.
Emmons, in a written statement Wednesday, said the police officers should be commended for agreeing to the changes in the police cruiser policy.
"At that time, during contract negotiations in 2012, the police union and the city agreed to a change in the police cruiser personal use benefit," Emmons said. " It was the right thing to do at the time, and police officers deserve praise for their efforts."
Emmons said that the city has been working with the union for more than six months to try to restore the program. It's a benefit not only to the officers but also the public.
"Now that we have an agreement, the last step is for the union members to vote and we hope they'll support the effort very soon," Emmons said.
Prior to the fall of 2012, police officers were allowed unlimited use of their police vehicles at no cost. The limitation on police cruisers to just to and from work was supposed to net a savings of more than $800,000.
But city officials said in November — and again on Tuesday — that the actual savings was a little more than $280,000 for 2013.
The $50 monthly fee for personal use would help the city recoup some of the costs of reinstating the program, city officials told the Urban County Council on Tuesday.
But many members of the council said they didn't think police officers should be charged $50 a month. The increased police presence was needed, they said.
The city has experienced an uptick in murders and non-fatal shootings in the past few weeks. Other council members expressed frustration that the council has asked for an update on the take-home cruiser policy for several months but was only given written information about the changes proposed to the program during Tuesday's Public Safety meeting. That type of information is typically distributed to the council prior to the meeting.
Former Lexington Police Chief Anthany Beatty, who is seeking to unseat Gray in November, has criticized Gray for limiting police officer's use of their cruisers while off-duty. More police presence helps deter crime. In addition, police officers often answer calls while off-duty, Beatty said.
"When a final agreement is reached, it will be a benefit to all citizens," Beatty said Wednesday.
If the FOP ultimately does not vote on changes to the cruiser policy, the current collective bargaining agreement will remain in place until next year. That means police officers will only be allowed to drive their cruisers to and from work unless they have a second job.