‘A big step.’ Lexington, police union ink new contract with some reforms, higher pay

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The city of Lexington and the Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge 4 have inked a four-year agreement that includes increases in pay, more civilian input on police disciplinary actions and a $5,000 bonus from federal coronavirus relief funds.

The agreement covers 597 officers and sergeant positions and will be retroactive to July 1. It expires on June 30, 2025. The pay increases will cost an additional $21.3 million over the four-year life of the contract, city officials said.

Starting pay will go from $41,057 to $47,000 annually. In addition, there will be salary increases throughout the four-year life of the contract as well as immediate pay increases depending on rank and years of service, typically called step increases. In addition to step increases, the annual pay increases will be 3 percent for 2022 and 2 percent for 2023 and 2024.

In addition, all members of the union will receive a $5,000 bonus or supplemental pay out of the city’s $120 million in federal coronavirus relief funds. The so-called hero pay was recently approved by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council.

“We are investing in our police,” said Mayor Linda Gorton. “We knew that recruiting was an issue and we knew that retention was an issue. We have to get them in the door and we have to keep them. So we focused on starting pay and pay to retain officers. We know that we needed to improve our competitiveness. We are competing with everyone in the country, basically.”

At one point earlier this year, the department was down nearly 100 officers. A recruit class is expected to graduate soon, which will help increase the city’s sworn strength.

Another key change that may help with recruiting more officers is allowing police officers to drive police cruisers home. The current contract allows officers to drive their cruisers up to 35 miles out of the county to their homes. The proposed contract extends that to 45 miles. Officers reimburse the city at 25 cents per mile. That means someone who lives as far away as Mt. Sterling could drive their police cruiser to and from home.

The union ratified the contract Oct. 15, said Sgt. Phillip Johnson, vice president of the FOP.

The contract took more than two years to negotiate.

Civilians on internal police disciplinary board

Gorton said the contract contains some key changes to disciplinary procedures, which the Commission on Racial Justice and Equality and police reform advocates have pushed for since June 2020, when Lexington and cities across the country saw weeks of protests in the wake of the police-involved killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

“One of my top priorities was to have civilians on our internal police disciplinary review board,” Gorton said. “This contract puts two civilians on the internal review board. This is a significant change to our agreement. It’s a big change. This is a big step.“

Lexington does not have the authority to create an external police disciplinary review board, which is what many, including area Black faith leaders, have pushed. That would take a change in state law, Gorton said.

The citizens will be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by council.

Lexington Police Department police badge.
Lexington Police Department police badge.

The new makeup of that board will be five members of the command staff, two members representing the FOP and two civilians. The previous board consisted of six command staff and one member of the FOP, said Assistant Chief Eric Lowe.

The civilians will be voting members but will be outnumbered by police and FOP representatives.

David Barberie, a lawyer for the city, said the civilian members will have the same number of representatives as the FOP.

Not all formal disciplinary actions go through the internal police board.

Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers can make a decision on punishment without consulting the internal disciplinary review board. If an officer challenges Weathers’ decision, it can go to the internal board or Weathers can send the disciplinary case to the board directly, Lowe said.

According to a summary of the changes to the police contract, Weathers can also reject the internal disciplinary board’s recommendation.

Lowe said the board can go months without meeting or can meet several times a year.

Johnson said the FOP had proposed adding citizens to that board in its initial contract proposal.

“Increased transparency and citizen involvement will further show the extraordinary work that our members do,” Johnson said.

A citizen appointee must be older than 21, a resident of Fayette County and have no felonies and no misdemeanors in the prior five years. The citizen board members will also have training on police procedures, Lowe said.

The details of that training are being worked out but it will include instruction on the what type of training police officers receive and the department’s expectations of police officers, Lowe said.

Rev. Clark Williams, a member of the Black faith leaders who have pushed for more civilian oversight, said adding two members to the internal board is a “step in the right direction.”

“I’m glad that they didn’t put just one person but two people on that board. However, a civilian review board still needs to be pursued. Whether that takes a change in local or state policy.”

Williams said if the city is committing more than $21.3 million over four years to additional pay for police officers, it needs to make similar investments in crime prevention programs.

“This is a major additional investment in policing,” Williams said. “It’s time to make a major investment in economically disadvantaged children and youth. It’s time to be proactive rather than reactive.“

Discipline records, changes to disability and modified duty

The prior agreement prohibited the police from considering previous disciplinary actions older than five years when it was disciplining an officer.

The new agreement allows police to consider all previous disciplinary actions regardless of when they occurred, which police accountability groups have sought in the past.

“We have an excellent police department here and these things were bargained to make sure we continue that,” Gorton said. “One of our goals is to maintain that excellence.”

April Taylor, one of the members of Lexington Police Department Accountability, has pushed for the city to do away with the prohibition that only allowed police to go back five years when considering discipline actions.

Taylor said the changes to the contract show that what the city was at first resistant to consider, could be done.

“As much as the Mayor and. LPD said that civilians reviewing police discipline was not possible without a change to state law, this shows that it was always possible and is (in) line with ... the Mayor’s Commission on Racial Justice and Equality recommendation,” Taylor said. The commission had recommended putting civilians on the internal police review board.

Taylor and other protesters are facing charges related to the protests this summer even though charges against Black Lives Matter protesters in other cities have been dropped.

“We have been criminalized for asking for changes that were obviously needed or they would not have been made,” Taylor said. “This includes allowing citizens to make complaints to someone other than an LPD officer, increasing the look back period for officer discipline to include their entire history, increasing body camera usage to all officers and also allowing citizens to review officer discipline. Charges need to be dropped.”

In addition, the contract allows for more time for disability leave and modified duty. Currently, police, often placed on special duty, have up to 18 months to return to regular duty after an injury. That’s often too little time for someone to recover from a serious injury. Under the proposed contract, police would have up to two years to return to active duty, which will help police retain more senior officers.

“We have a lot of back and knee injuries,” Lowe said. Oftentimes, the first step is physical therapy. If physical therapy does not work, then more invasive measures, such as surgery, are next. By the time an officer goes through all of those treatments, the 18 months is up, often forcing someone to take a disability retirement before they want to, Lowe said.

A first vote on the contract is expected at a Tuesday council work session. A final vote is expected at the council’s Nov. 4 meeting.

However, if the council takes no action than the mayor can sign the contract.

If the council recommends any change to the proposed contract, it would have to go back to the FOP membership for another vote, Barberie said.

In addition to the changes in the contract, the city has also made sure all police officers — not just those that have daily contact with the public — have body-worn cameras. Earlier this year, the council also added money to the current-year budget to expand the hours of the city’s citizen advocate to help people file formal complaints against police officers.

In June, the council passed a ban on no-knock warrants, which had allowed police officers to enter a home without knocking or announcing. The FOP, which opposed the ban, filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s authority to enact it. That case is ongoing.

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