Is Keeping AHOD Worth a $3M Budget Hit?
Yesterday, an arbitrator ruled that the D.C. police department's "All Hands on Deck" initiative violated the officers' contract and must be stopped. Chief Cathy L. Lanier promptly announced that the show must go on, indicating her intention to continue with AHOD weekends scheduled for November and December.
At this point, one cannot be surprised by the city opting for a take-no-prisoners strategy toward litigation. That's par for the course under bulldog Attorney General Peter J. Nickles.
But the decision to continue with AHODs during the appeal process stands to incur tremendous costs to the District in a time when city budgeting is under immense pressures. And not just in legal fees: In his decision yesterday, arbitrator John C. Truesdale awarded overtime pay to officers who have participated in this year's AHODs.
A back-of-the-envelope calculation provided by the police union indicates that overtime for each AHOD weekend could reach $1.5 million. (That's an extra $17.50 per hour for the 3,600 sworn patrol officers making an average of $35 per hour working three extra eight-hour shifts.) The department declined to provide its own figures, though police spokesperson Traci Hughes does say "it is a substantial amount."
Hughes says that Lanier took the costs into account when deciding to continue the program. "All of the ramifications are being considered," she says.
Let's review those ramifications: Taking the union's numbers, the arbitrator's decision already means the city is potentially on the hook for $10.6 million in unbudgeted costs. And now, by vowing to continue with the two additional AHODs, Lanier is possibly drawing another $3 million from a police budget recently trimmed by the D.C. Council.
Certainly the city hopes to prevail on appeals to the Public Employee Relations Board and, if necessary, D.C. Superior Court. Success, however, is far from assured. Are AHOD's crimefighting and public relations benefits worth risking $3 million in taxpayer funds in the meantime?
LL asked At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who oversees the police budget, if the cops can afford that kind of money. "Sure, if we give up something else," he says, adding that "presumably everything else is what they need."
If the ruling is upheld, and the city's on the hook for $10 million or more in overtime, he says, "That's going to be a serious problem."
Mendelson says he's "not an AHOD hater," but questions the wisdom of continuing the program in light of the arbitration ruling: "I've never had much patience for Peter Nickles' strategy of pursuing an action that has been struck down assuming there is an appeal that he will win. So far the record of success is thin....Rather than just add to the cost out of stubbornness, Mr. Nickles ought to be a little more careful and counsel suspending the program pending the appeal."
Nickles did not immediately reply for a request for comment.
The police union chief, Kristopher Baumann, prefers to focus on concerns beyond the price tag: "It's not only fiscally irresponsible, but just think about the message it sends to citizens and criminals, that the police chief and the attorney general don't respect the rule of law."