Derek J. Moore
Santa Rosa police officers earn less in base salary than officers in several Bay Area cities of similar size, a fact that is sure to be an issue as the city and the police union seek a way out of stalled contract negotiations.
A review of 11 Bay Area cities that have populations comparable to Santa Rosa’s revealed that officers in all but Concord are paid more.
Santa Rosa officers are paid $59,328 to $72,048 annually under a four-year contract approved in 2001.
The average minimum pay for the 12 Bay Area cities including Santa Rosa is $67,343. The average top step is $82,217.
Many officers are paid considerably more than base salary with overtime and premiums for specialty duty, such as SWAT teams or detective squads.
The Santa Rosa Police Officers Association contends that its 126 members are underpaid, and that it is hampering efforts to recruit and retain personnel, particularly people with law enforcement experience elsewhere.
The union has been working without a contract since June while union leaders and city negotiators have met several times seeking a deal.
Another mediation session is scheduled for Friday. If a deal can’t be reached then, union leaders are vowing to take the dispute to binding arbitration.
The comparison of base salary figures was compiled from a review of memorandums of understanding between cities and police officers around the nine-county Bay Area.
Several of the contracts are posted on the Web site of the Peace Officers Research Association of California Web, a labor and lobbying organization representing police officers and sheriff’s deputies, and Policepay.net, an Oklahoma City-based company that bills itself as the nation’s leading collective bargaining consultant for police unions.
The review included the cities of Fremont, Hayward, Sunnyvale, Concord, Vallejo, Santa Clara, Fairfield, Daly City, Berkeley, Richmond and Antioch.
The comparisons revealed that Sunnyvale pays its starting officers the most at $73,791, while Santa Clara officers max out at the highest at $97,404. Both cities are in Santa Clara County.
A new Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy is paid less to start than a Santa Rosa police officer – $56,544 – but can top out higher at $76,284.
Rohnert Park police are paid more across the board, from $61,000 to $74,000.
And in Petaluma, the City Council on Oct. 17 authorized a 30 percent pay raise over three years for police officers. As a result, the minimum salary for a Petaluma officer will go from $50,502 to $65,653 by July 2008. Top scale will go from $64,438 to $83,769.
Base salary provides only a snapshot of what officers are paid, however, and doesn’t take into account specialty pay or other incentives. It also doesn’t factor in what cities pay for health care or retirement benefits.
Configuring such “total compensation” packages is a matter of dispute between the Santa Rosa police union and the city.
Arbitrators ruling on a police contract would make a ruling based on changes in the average Consumer Price Index for goods and services; the wages, hours, benefits and terms and conditions of employees performing similar services in comparable cities of similar population; and the financial condition of the city.
Neither side has stated publicly what the disagreement is about.
“At this point, we’re not prepared to release our numbers,” said Rockne Lucia, an attorney representing the police union. “We’re still going to mediation. It’s still something we have to deal with to protect the integrity of the process.”
Should the matter go to arbitration, it would be the first time it has been used since Santa Rosa voters passed Measure A in 1996 giving police and firefighters the right to demand binding arbitration on any unresolved differences.
Only 22 California cities, all in Northern California, have binding arbitration in their charters, said Claude Alber, a labor consultant with the Peace Officers Research Association and a former Santa Rosa officer.
“When you look at the entire state, very few cities and counties have arbitration,” Alber said. “And it’s rare in the sense that those that have it, rarely use it.”
Alber, who served on the executive committee of the Santa Rosa police union and signed the binding arbitration measure, said both sides stand to lose something in the arbitration process, which is open to the public.
But from his perspective, Alber said officers could do no worse than before arbitration was available to them.
“If you don’t have it, they (the city) get to enforce their last, best offer,” he said. “There’s no dispute resolution. That happened on several occasions when I worked in Santa Rosa.”