Time to end exodus from Village police department

Sworn police officers are leaving the Pinecrest Police Department in ever growing numbers.

In the last two years alone, 25 officers tendered their resignation, most of them to take similar jobs in the police departments of other South Florida municipalities. Four more officers have departed our Village force in just the first three months of this year and sources tell me that at least six others are on the verge of resigning.

The reason for the exodus? The issue isn’t base pay because Pinecrest offers a higher starting salary ($48,000) than most other municipalities and a 401(k) plan. The problem centers on benefits. The police want a better package and they claim that the Village simply will not negotiate.

I sat down with a group of Pinecrest police officers last week and they told me that at the heart of the dispute is the pension plan. They say that most other Miami-Dade municipalities – including Aventura, Bal Harbour, Coral Gables, Homestead, Key Biscayne, Miami Beach, Miramar, North Miami Beach, Sunny Isles and Doral – have a defined pension plan for their officers and contribute to that plan. There is no defined benefit pension program for Village officers.

The officers told me that other issues center around the right to take home a police car, a light-duty work policy (especially important to female officers who may become pregnant), shift differential pay and an established pay scale, all of which are established benefits in most other area police departments, but lacking in Pinecrest.

One real sore point with police is job security. The officers told me that an officer who has not been with the Village police department for at least five years can be fired without cause. They want the Village to implement a two-year “without cause” window.

Maintaining a stable, veteran police department is important to the Village for many reasons, the most important being the prevention of crime and the safety of our community. Veteran officers who have been patrolling the same beat for a couple of years, for example, get to know the people and the streets.

They know when a strange vehicle is parked on a street or in a driveway. They establish relations with residents, relationships that often lead to preventing crime.

We believe the police officers have a justifiable complaint. Village Manager Peter Lombardi should step up to the plate and start negotiating with the police union to find a solution to this vexing situation. If all other Miami- Dade municipalities are providing pension contributions, allow officers to take home their cars, have light-duty policies, provide shift differential pay and have longevity pay scales in place, then Pinecrest should at the very least investigate the benefit of doing the same.

There are very few areas where our Village lags behind other municipalities, but it appears that the treatment of our police officers is one where we do. Putting a police officer on the street is a time-consuming, expensive process, costing about $50,000 per officer. There are interviews before the Oral Review Board, psychological and polygraph testing, drug tests, a physical examination, a background check, a six-month process of attending and passing the police academy and an interview with the police chief. The high standards and rigorous certification requirements that these officers meet make them prized candidates for positions with other police departments.

Thus, we think it is outrageous that the Village administration would allow officers to leave the department after little more than two years on the job, making little or no effort to retain them.

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