Just two months since approving $500,000 in raises for police, Garden Grove officials and union representatives are again at the bargaining table negotiating new contracts for 2000.
After almost a year of bitter negotiations, the City Council gave a 5% raise to rank-and-file officers and a 3% increase to sergeants in February, both on top of a 5% increase approved earlier in the year.
Council members were hoping to head off an exodus of nearly 23 veteran officers who were seeking positions in better-paying departments.
The raises seemed to have done the trick, boosting Garden Grove officers from the 20th best-paid police in the county to sixth. Of the 12 officers on a fast-track program to positions at the Orange County Sheriffs Department, only three have completed the process and have received start dates, according to Police Det. Mark Hutchinson.
"But there are six more that are getting their word soon from Santa Ana, Irvine and Anaheim," said Hutchinson. "If our contract negotiations go OK this time we'll have some of those officers stay. But if they go sour, . . . we'll not only lose those people, we'll lose more."
Hutchinson said that the city has made Garden Grove competitive once again but also stresses the importance of remaining that way. "Over the last couple of years, we're talking about 15 officers lost [to other departments], and that's high," he said. "We're losing experience here because it's a free agency in police work right now."
Police union representatives and city officials had two preliminary meetings in March, setting ground rules for this round of negotiations.
"It's going so much better this time around," Hutchinson said. "It got so ugly last time because of a lack of communications."
Police and city officials attended a three-day labor-management cooperation seminar in March.
"It was very positive. I think it helped everybody out," Hutchinson said. "We all took a long, hard look at ourselves."
Hutchinson said police and city officials were surprised to find they agreed on how relations have been in the past and about what they want to accomplish in the next two years--namely retaining veteran officers.
"Management wants them to stay, but we want them to stay more," Hutchinson said. "Not that we have anything against younger officers. But there's safety issues. You don't become halfway decent until you've had at least five years experience."
With a competitive salary, the Garden Grove Police Department has a hiring advantage in that its officers have more involvement in investigations. "In other cities, they call a detective right away," Hutchinson said. "They like the activity here.
"We still have to keep it at a level playing field," Hutchinson said. "If we drop back down, it was all for nothing."
Chris Ceballos can be reached at (714) 966-7440.