Lexington police ratify collective bargaining agreement

Lexington officials announced Friday that a new collective bargaining contract with police is projected to save millions of dollars over the next four years, in part by ending the long-standing practice of letting officers use their cruisers freely while off duty.

The city and the Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge No. 4 reached the agreement Thursday night after negotiating for nearly a year.

The contract, which will be taken to the Urban County Council for review, includes an estimated $4.47 million in savings compared with the last contract, according to a news release from Mayor Jim Gray's office.

Projected savings were culled from wage freezes and reductions in vacation and holiday leave time for the first two years of the four-year contract. Firefighters' and corrections officers' unions, which both ratified new contracts within the last year, made similar concessions.

Police officers also agreed to reductions in allowances for their uniforms, as well as restrictions in personal use of city-owned cruisers.

Under the new contract, "cruisers are going to be to and from work only," said Mike Sweeney, president of the FOP. "The public, effective July 1, will see a drastic decrease in police presence in Fayette County."

Officers who pay $50 monthly can take their cruisers to and from a second job, city spokeswoman Susan Straub said.

The department's "take-home fleet program" was a contentious issue between the city and the union last year.

In November, as negotiations with the union continued, the city attempted to restrict the use of cruisers to save money on gas and insurance. Union officials successfully argued that the home-fleet program was guaranteed by the collective bargaining contract and had to be settled at the negotiating table.

The purpose of the home-fleet program, implemented in the 1970s, was to increase the visibility of officers and to have more officers available. When driving their cruisers while off-duty, officers had to be armed, and they had to turn on their radios and respond to emergencies if needed. In return, they were free to drive cruisers anywhere within Fayette County.

According to records obtained by the Herald-Leader, off-duty officers responded to about 350 calls a month last year. Union officials initially raised the issue as a public safety concern, but protests to altering the program dwindled as negotiations continued.

Straub said the city's bargaining unit, which includes Police Chief Ronnie Bastin and other commanding officers, did not think restricting off-duty use would present a significant safety issue.

"We have no indication that it will affect public safety," Straub said. "But this is something new. We haven't experienced it before. If there is an impact, we can adjust."

City officials estimated the home-fleet alteration could save $800,000 per year over the life of the contract, Straub said.

Sweeney said he would comment further on the contract next week.

The agreement is the third public safety contract the Gray administration has negotiated. Negotiations continue with unions representing lieutenants and captains at the jail; majors in the fire department; and police lieutenants and captains.

Taken together, the new contracts in the police department, fire department and jail are expected to save the city about $10.4 million by 2016 compared to the cost of previous contracts.

Officers and sergeants approved the contract 287-71, the release said. The agreement covers more than 500 employees. Gray thanked those who voted in favor.

"I appreciate the significance of the vote in support of the city," Gray said. "The city's history of supporting public safety is clear in this vote."

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