Delaware police union uses NCCo budget to send message

Public safety played a big part in New Castle County Executive Paul Clark’s budget address Tuesday night, but some police officers say all county employees will eventually pay the price to help fund the $166.6 million proposal.

During his address, Clark announced the county will hire six additional police officers scheduled to enroll in a new police academy class this summer, marking the first time in more than a decade that the county has had two police academy classes in the same calendar year.

“Major crime is down in New Castle County… Obviously, there is still some crime so that’s why we don’t want to rest on our laurels. We’re going full speed to build our numbers up and have our officers out,” said Clark.

Federal dollars will cover the new officers’ salaries and benefits. And while Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 president Michael Zielinski welcomes the additions, he questions Clark’s motives; Clark is up for election this year.

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“[Paul Clark’s] gonna add six officers from a federal grant. Eventually the county’s gonna have to pick up that tab as well, which is further going to put them in debt.”

FOP 5 represents NCCo police and the Sheriff’s Department. Its members were hard to miss inside council chambers Tuesday night. Wearing neon-colored tee-shirts, they filled three rows of seats. FOP 5 protested any salary givebacks in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. A battle FOP 5 lost two weeks ago when the state’s Public Employment Relations Board, PERB, ruled in favor of NCCo, requiring FOP 5 members to retroactively give back 2.5 percent of their pay.

“We are pleased that the Public Employment Relations Board recognized the need for shared sacrifice by our employees in this time of austerity,” Clark said at the time.

And during his address, the county executive mentioned the $2 million in employee givebacks helped close what would have been a $7.1 million budget shortfall.

“We try to compensate our employees well. We asked for this 2.5 percent back. Over the last couple years, under the last administration, they gave 5 percent back, so they really have not had a raise in a while. But having said that, at the same time, they’re healthcare and their benefits have risen more than what they’ve given back,” Clark added.

Having gone without a pay raise in seven years, Zielinski says the money is only a small piece of the puzzle.

“We wanted to come out today to show our solidarity and say there are problems affecting public safety and it’s not just pay raises,” said Zielinski. “If we don’t continue to be competitive, in all aspects of law enforcement, we’re gonna lose qualified candidates to other police departments.”

FOP 5 says it intends to appeal PERB’s decision and warns other unions the ruling has a wide scope. 

“We think that this ruling from PERB is going to affect all police departments in the state of Delaware and all public employee unions, not just us. So we’re gonna start the fight and we’re hoping that these other unions are gonna join with us and join in the fight because if they really sit down and read our PERB ruling, it’s gonna affect them eventually in the long run,” said Zielinski.

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