Police Reach Tentative Pact With City of Santa Ana

Times Staff Writer

Santa Ana has reached a tentative agreement with its police officers on a 2-year contract, ending a bitter, 18-month-old labor dispute that led to heavy police involvement in city politics and contributed to the resignation of a chief.

The tentative accord was reached in a negotiating session Friday afternoon, said Sgt. Donald Blankenship, president of the Santa Ana Police Benevolent Assn., which represents about 440 sworn officers and non-sworn personnel. Blankenship said that the association’s negotiating team would recommend to the membership this Friday that they approve the contract and that a ratification vote by mail would follow over the next 2 weeks.

The contract gives police officers raises that will boost their salaries by a total of about 12% by July, with sergeants receiving an additional 2% increase.

The package will not make Santa Ana police officers the highest-paid in the county, as they had once demanded, but it will put them in the top five, Blankenship said.


Able to Live With It

“It’s something they can live with,” Blankenship said. “If we didn’t sign it, we’d be working backwards, and we’d never be able to . . . catch up.”

Under the contract terms, an officer’s maximum base salary will increase from $3,129 a month to $3,519 after July 1, said John Burkhardt, Santa Ana human resources manager.

A sergeant’s top base pay, now $3,784 a month, will reach $4,339 by July, although all sergeants in Santa Ana receive at least an additional $300 a month based on their education and training levels, Burkhardt said.

The entire package will cost the city roughly $4.5 million over 2 years, Burkhardt said.

The City Council, anticipating the police association’s ratification vote, unanimously endorsed the contract Tuesday night.

“I’m glad we have finally brought this thing to a conclusion,” said Vice Mayor John Acosta. “I hope we can look forward to a real productive year with harmony. Hopefully, next year our negotiating sessions will not be a repetition of this year.”

4.5% Increase

The police association and the city have been without a contract since July 1, 1987. Last April, after months of fruitless negotiations, a 2-day sickout by officers and protests in front of city council members’ homes, the council unilaterally imposed a 4.5% pay increase (6.5% for sergeants) on the association.

Angered but legally prohibited from striking, the association’s political action committee poured thousands of dollars into the campaigns of anti-incumbent candidates during the November elections, hoping to gain a majority more favorable to their cause.

But their efforts failed: Incumbents won every race. Because of a redistricting plan, however, the newly installed council only has six members, with no clear-cut majority at odds with the PBA as before. Members who days earlier had been at war with one another suddenly vowed to work together to resolve the police contract problem.

Then, in December, Police Chief Clyde L. Cronkhite unexpectedly resigned after barely a year on the job. Cronkhite had come under heavy fire from his officers, who saw in him a proponent of the city’s tough bargaining position, rather than an ally of the rank and file.

Cronkhite rejected the label and said that he had in fact argued for more police resources. After he resigned, he cited the lack of a contract as something that seriously detracted from the department’s ability to provide better police service to the city. He said his year in office had been “the most trying challenge of my whole life.”

New Chief Supported

City Manager David N. Ream quickly appointed Paul M. Walters, a 17-year-department veteran, as the new chief, and the police association supported the move.

Councilman Daniel E. Griset said that Walters helped resolve the contract dispute even though he did not directly participate in negotiations.

“He brought a fresh-start opportunity, and it’s a credit to both sides that they made something of it,” Griset said. “He’s contributing to a new sense of teamwork within the department and more reliable communications from one level to the next.”

Councilman Ron May said the contract did not represent a victory or defeat for either side. “There was give and take on both sides,” May said. “I think we’ve got a meeting of the minds for the first time in many months, which is certainly satisfying.”

The two sides have been in agreement on the contract’s salary provisions for several months: a 5% raise retroactive to July 1, 1988 (7% for sergeants), and 3.5% increases Jan. 1 and July 1 of this year.

Balked at Demand

But until Friday, the city had balked at the police union’s demand that it boost the city’s contributions by $50 to the officers’ health insurance programs. Subscription costs to the insurance programs have risen since 1985, but the city’s contribution level has remained the same, Blankenship said, and officers were forced to pay the difference out of their own pockets.

The city had offered to pay an additional $20 a month into the insurance program; police were asking for $50. On Friday, they settled on $20 a month beginning this month and another $20 beginning July 1.

Other provisions of the contract include an additional holiday beginning next year--Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which other city employees already receive--and the elimination of a two-tier retirement system that allowed some officers to retire at 50 while others had to wait until 55.