A new contract for Philadelphia’s police union gives cops significant raises and includes incremental changes to the process for disciplining officers — changes that advocates for stronger police accountability quickly condemned as inadequate.
Mayor Jim Kenney, who made the contract central to his plans to improve police accountability after last year’s racial justice protests, said the changes it includes, such as increasing the amount of time disciplinary actions remain on officers’ records, “will help improve the relationship between the police and community, ultimately helping keep Philadelphians safer.”
But he acknowledged that the contract, which was written by an arbitration panel, fell short of his goals, saying the city was limited by a state law known as Act 111 that dictates much of how municipalities manage police officers.
“This is not enough, and it’s a beginning, and we’ll continue to make progress,” Kenney said at a news conference. “We still have constraints that are put on us by the state and by state law. What we were able to accomplish within the confines of that state law, I think, is exceptional.”
The three-year contract, which will increase police spending by $133 million over three years, includes raises for the city’s more than 6,000 police officers and allows for some civilian involvement in the frequently criticized disciplinary process, according to Kenney administration officials.
Officers will get one-time bonuses of $1,500 in addition to raises of 2.75% this year and raises of 3.5% in 2022 and 2023. The contract is retroactive to July 1, when the previous one expired, and it ends on June 30, 2024. The average salary for a Philadelphia cop is $74,733, and many officers take in significant overtime pay.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the local police union, defeated the administration’s attempt to require all officers to live in the city. Cops can move out of Philadelphia after five years on the force.
The union said that, despite some changes to the disciplinary process, officers still have the same rights to contest penalties or firings through arbitration — a process that has helped overturn sanctions for dozens of officers over the years.
“This contract award recognizes the hard work and tireless dedication of our 6,000 rank and file police officers especially during a world-wide pandemic,” union president John McNesby said in a statement. “The contract award is a fair resolution for both sides. Our work continues today to make our city safer in every neighborhood across this great city.”
The contract will significantly increase spending on the Police Department, which already has the largest budget of any city agency, at $729 million this fiscal year. Kenney has resisted activists’ calls to “defund the police,” saying the city can’t afford to have fewer cops at a time of soaring gun violence and homicides.
The long-term impact of the contract is even greater than the $133 million price tag makes it appear, because the city won a $25 million cost offset in the contract that, unlike increased wages, will not continue beyond the three-year term. That provision allows the city to forgo paying for officers’ health-care plans for two months, one this year and one in 2023. Instead, the union’s health and welfare fund will cover the cost for those months.
City Finance Director Rob Dubow said the deal will require the city to revise its five-year financial plan.
“It’s something that is expensive, and we got a lot in return for those costs,” Dubow said.
Advocates for stronger accountability were quick to express disappointment that the contract doesn’t significantly revamp the police arbitration system, which an Inquirer investigation found has allowed scores of officers accused of wrongdoing to get their punishments reversed or lessened.
“This contract is not in line with the trend of significant reforms to reflect the past year of advocacy and pain. This is why we need to abolish Act 111 immediately,” City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas said in a statement. “We need to do better.”
Katia Pérez, mass liberation organizer with the progressive group Reclaim Philadelphia, said the deal didn’t do enough to bring change to a scandal-plagued agency. Her group and other activist organizations have called for stricter disciplinary measures, reducing the size of the force, and reallocating police spending toward other services.
“I see the small wins, but there’s a lot more work to do,” she said.
Mayors typically negotiate multiyear deals with the city’s unions in the first year of their terms. But last year, the first of Kenney’s second term, the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Philadelphia shortly before contract talks were set to begin. The administration instead negotiated one-year contracts for all four unions that included small raises and largely maintained the status quo.
Those deals expired at the end of June, and the city’s unionized employees have been working without contracts since then. About 22,300 of the city’s 26,800 employees are represented by unions.
The contracts for the FOP and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22 are determined through arbitration, in which a three-person panel selected by the parties decides the details.
The new contract will allow people besides officers to be more involved in the department’s disciplinary process — a priority for the Kenney administration.
For example, outside advocates will be now able to present a case against an officer to the Police Board of Inquiry, which hears cases against accused officers and determines penalties. And a civilian will also sit on the board, along with two officers of a higher rank than the cop accused of wrongdoing.
The administration said some of those changes will allow a new, independent police oversight board to be involved in the disciplinary process, although Kenney said details about that board and its interaction with the disciplinary panel were still being worked out.
McNesby said the union is prepared to work within the new disciplinary system, and noted that officers will still be able to contest penalties through the arbitration process.
The city said the new deal ensured that arbiters resolving disputes over firings would now be more diverse and experienced than in years past.
McNesby said the panel would have no impact on the actual process, and was simply a way to have a predetermined list of arbitrators who would hear cases on a rotating basis.
“The termination board kind of works for both sides,” he said. “It’ll make it a lot easier.”