The Mayor fights the Council on a police pay raise.
For months, Kincaid and the City Council have drawn swords over granting a 15 percent pay increase to police and firefighters. The Mayor had previously approved a $200 monthly uniform allowance for public safety personnel, which prompted grumbling from Public Works employees, who also wear uniforms. Kincaid then attempted to appease public safety workers by offering to petition the Jefferson County Personnel Board to convert the monthly allowance into salary. The Mayor touted the 20-year retirement plan offered to public safety personnel as “invaluable” when comparing officers’ pay to surrounding jurisdictions. But demands for a substantial pay raise remained, and on September 26 the City Council voted to give police and firefighters a 15 percent increase. Kincaid vetoed the Council’s action and a public outcry began. Two weeks later the Council overturned Kincaid’s veto. Councilor Roderick Royal summed up the frustration: “This city is under siege. And we don’t need to keep playing games, Mr. Mayor.”
City under siege
If the current rate continues, the number of homicides in 2006 will far surpass last year’s total. According to Sergeant Allen Treadaway, a 17-year veteran who currently serves as president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), staffing levels at the Birmingham Police Department are perilously low. He warns that Birmingham cannot afford to lose any more officers. “I have commanders throughout this department who tell me that it’s shorter now than they’ve ever seen it, and these folks have 25 or 30 years in,” said Treadaway. “My department is so short that I’m having to work a lot of overtime just to keep up. I don’t mind doing that. But you can’t do it forever. Folks need a break. And when you talk about morale and frustration, that’s where it builds.”
He cites statistics from previous years. “From 1990 to 1997, the city of Birmingham averaged 124 homicides a year. We had a high of 147 in 1991,” says Treadaway. In 1997, consultants from New York City evaluated and made several recommendations to the Birmingham Police Department. “The first year, 1998, Birmingham’s crime rate dropped dramatically across all categories of ‘part one’ offenses. That’s your rapes, your assaults, your homicides,” explains the sergeant. “For the next several years, Birmingham’s crime rate continued to decline, with homicides averaging only 76 a year compared to 124 the previous nine years. Last year, for the first time in eight years, Birmingham’s homicide rate reached triple digits—-105. The difference is, in 1998 the Birmingham Police Department had 882 sworn personnel on the streets. Today we have less than 787.” Another 18 officers are currently serving in the military, while approximately 15 policemen are reassigned to the airport following 9/11.
Treadaway continues: “With these shortages we cannot accomplish our goal of combating Birmingham’s crime problem. We cannot implement the crime-fighting strategies that we did in 1998 that saw these numbers go down . . . Homicide started [to increase] first. I have said that’s an indicator that other part one offenses will follow . . . The strategies that were presented to reduce crime in Birmingham here recently are no different from the same strategies that we implemented in 1998. The difference? We don’t have the personnel. Call the commander at any precinct.”
Kincaid disputes crime increase
“Reducing crime became the whipping boy for this,” was Mayor Kincaid’s assessment on October 10 after the City Council voted 7 to 1 to override his veto of increased police salaries (Councilor Valerie Abbott sided with the Mayor, and Councilor Maxine Parker was absent). “[Police] Chief Nunn reported that crime overall was down in the city,” said Kincaid. “But homicides were up and, as you know, that’s the headline-grabber. So with that as a backdrop, it seems to be the moment to push this forth, using that as the reason for doing it.” Kincaid continued to insist that the authority to recommend salary increases rested with him, not the Council, and said the matter would be settled in court.
During the Council meeting, Councilor Joel Montgomery was disappointed that “the Mayor has decided that he does not consider public safety in this city a priority nor the pay of our public safety personnel who protect you, the citizens.” Montgomery accused Kincaid of inciting upheaval within the ranks of city workers. “Our, quote, commander in chief, unquote, has decided that he is going to take our different employees in different departments and pit them against each other in order to beat this raise down,” said Montgomery. “I think the citizens should rise up and demand that we have a pay raise for our public safety personnel. And not only that, that we hire enough public safety personnel to put them on the streets to protect our citizens!”
As for where the city will find the money to finance the 15 percent pay increase for public safety personnel, Councilor Montgomery said the Council will hire a consultant to locate the funds. Regardless of where the money is found, Sergeant Treadaway believes that a competitive pay scale is the city’s only hope to combat crime. “We got a 2 percent pay raise. Trussville just gave a 6 percent raise, Fultondale just announced 5 percent,” he says, wearily. “We lose ground every time we argue this. . . . The problem, and what’s so unique to Birmingham, and why we find ourselves in worse shape than we ever have as far as retaining officers, is that the fastest-growing county in the Southeast is Shelby County. They also have some of the highest paid police departments in Alabaster, Pelham, and the Shelby County sheriff’s department. Now, with state troopers paying what they’re paying, and they’re going to double their staff levels over the next three years—they’re looking to add 300 state troopers—that is going to open up even greater opportunities for Birmingham officers [to leave the force].” &