Police union and city representatives disagree on union’s role in shaping policy

photo by: Journal-World Illustration

Lawrence Police Department logo, Lawrence City Hall

City officials and representatives of the local police officers union do not agree on what role the union should have in developing police department policies.

At a contract negotiations meeting Wednesday afternoon between representatives for the city and the Lawrence Police Officers Association, City Manager Tom Markus said he thinks the way the agreement is currently written prohibits the police chief from creating policies without the input of the LPOA representatives. He also said he thinks that should change.

While Markus agreed with LPOA representatives that any good manager would be interested in the input of employees, he said that doesn’t mean that’s something that should be negotiated or mandated in an agreement. He said such a requirement takes authority away from management.

“The way I read it is that we have to ask an LPOA representative about the development, implementation and modification of department policies, rules, regulations and orders,” Markus said. “… And I don’t think the management rights clause mandates that at all.”

At issue is an article in the agreement regarding joint standing committees. The article states that “the city will continue to seek the input of an LPOA representative” regarding changes to department policies and rules, and that such input will continue to be considered by a variety of permanent committees through which employees can discuss policies and provide feedback. The city is proposing that the entire article be stricken, while the LPOA is proposing it be expanded to include the use of force committee and “any additional committees implemented in the future.”

LPOA Chairman Drew Fennelly said Markus’ interpretation was not the intent of the statement. He said that currently all officers are members of the LPOA, and the statement is meant to indicate that only the elected representatives of the LPOA have the authority to speak on behalf of the organization. Further, Fennelly said he does not think there is any binding nature to the statement as far as what that input should be or any consequences should it not be followed.

“It’s just creating lines of communication with elected representatives of the LPOA,” Fennelly said. “I would think the city would be interested in input of employees.”

Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. said any competent chief would know that one person never writes a policy alone, and that those creating policies should consult professional police organizations and best practices across the country and then tailor a policy to the individual department.

“I would agree that input is always important, but at the end of day, you always look at best practices from national organizations to point you in the right direction of how that should be,” Burns said. “And that’s what should lead you to what your final product should look like.”

After taking a private caucusing break, Markus came back with a counterproposal. The city proposed not striking the article and instead amending it to specify that the city would continue to seek employee input in developing or modifying department rules, but that it would not be done through standing committees. Rather, ad hoc committees would be formed as needed by the chief.

Fennelly said the creation of committees is a cumbersome process and he doesn’t understand the issue with maintaining the standing committees, as they’ve resulted in valuable input. The LPOA did not agree to the city’s counterproposal.

In addition, the city and LPOA representatives again discussed the city’s proposals that the police department should follow the rules and regulations for city employees unless otherwise specified in the agreement, and that the agreement should supersede all existing unwritten practices between the city and the LPOA. The city and the LPOA were not able to come to an agreement on those proposals. Police department compensation, including the department’s pay plan, overtime pay and longevity pay will be discussed at a future negotiations meeting.

The city’s employment agreement with the LPOA covers wages, benefits and working conditions for officers and detectives and expires at the end of this year. Wednesday’s meeting was the third open meeting between city and LPOA representatives to discuss the agreement.

The next meeting between the city and the LPOA will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


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