Fresno police officers win big raises from City Council after contentious negotiations

CRAIG KOHLRUSS/ckohlruss@fresnobee.com
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The Fresno City Council and Fresno Police Officers Association both voted this week to approve a new contract that includes three years of raises — making Fresno police officers the highest paid in the San Joaquin Valley, leaders said.

The city council unanimously approved two memorandums of understanding during its meeting on Thursday — one for police officers and one for managers. The new contracts also include step raises and increases in premium pay.

The FPOA membership approved the proposals this week after soundly rejecting a previous proposal earlier this month. The management contract received a 100% “yes” vote from FPOA membership, with 33 members voting. The FPOA non-supervisory unit approved the proposal by 96%, with a total of 487 votes, according to an FPOA email a member provided to The Bee.

Speaking during a news conference following Thursday’s vote, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and Police Chief Paco Balderrama said the raises would help with the department’s staffing crisis and ultimately help lower the city’s violent crime, which spiked during the pandemic.

“I hope that this contract demonstrates clearly that this council and myself deeply appreciate the officers that are out there today,” Dyer told reporters. “They put their life on the line day in and day out. They give themselves sacrificially, and we want them to know we’re going to support them.”

The union’s previous contract expired in June 2021, and earlier this month, union officials said in an email to their membership that they would declare an impasse if necessary.

Council President Nelson Esparza and Council Vice President Tyler Maxwell were appointed to the council’s leadership earlier in January. They said passing the police union contract was their top priority in their new roles.

“This is a huge accomplishment for our city,” City Council President Nelson Esparza said. “As the fifth-largest city in the state of California, Fresno is competing with other metropolitan areas up and down the state. With this new contract, we are confident our police department will have the resources it needs to recruit and retain highly-trained, competent, professional and compassionate officers that our communities deserve.”

New contracts

The new contracts provide a 3% raise for three years, starting retroactively for 2021 and ending in 2023. The contracts also include a 5% step raise for 2022 and an additional 5% step raise for 2023. Premium pay for shift differentials also received a slight bump.

By 2023, the new contract will add about $20,000 annually to a veteran officer’s salary, Dyer said. Rookie officers will take home around $1,000 more than they currently do, he said.

The sticking point in the previous proposal had to do with how patrol officers are assigned to their shifts and districts, what’s called “the matrix.” The current system allows officers to sign up each year for the shift and district they wish to work. Under the current system, vacancies are filled as they come up, sometimes meaning the newest officers get the most sought-after positions and shifts, such as the day shift, Balderrama said.

The new proposal keeps part of the old matrix while phasing in a new transfer program, Balderrama said. The new system will allow officers to enter a transfer portal year-round, so they don’t have to wait a full year to switch assignments.

“I happen to believe that officers who are invested in a certain shift, in a certain part of town and certain community tend to perform better because they know the neighborhood. They know the store owners, people who live there, and they know about the trouble spots,” Balderrama said. “So in order to better serve our community, I want that consistency, especially in the patrol shift.”

Balderrama said he believes the new transfer portal system will be more equitable and result in better service to the community.

Recruitment and retention

Since last year, FPOA, Balderrama, and Dyer rang the alarm about a staffing crisis in the Fresno Police Department.

Union leadership pushed for raises so that new police officer salaries are competitive with neighboring departments, such as Clovis Police Department and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. They said the department was losing experienced officers and the best new recruits to other departments because Fresno PD also has a bigger workload — in addition to lower pay.

City officials believed they reached a tentative agreement with the union in late December. Then the Fresno Deputy Sheriff’s Association approved a new and better contract, and FPOA membership voted down the city’s proposal by 82%, Dyer said.

The new contract puts Fresno police officers’ pay above Clovis and the sheriff’s deputies, Dyer said.

The higher pay will help Balderrama fill 70-plus vacancies and retain veteran officers, he said.

Jordan Wamhoff, vice president for FPOA, said the new contract would also help officers feel appreciated.

“This is a great big step in rebuilding the department to where it needs to be to keep this community safe,” Wamhoff said. “This contract makes our officers feel valued and makes them feel appreciated by the city and the community. It lets all of our officers know that the sacrifices not just they make, but their families make - makes them appreciated and feel valued. So with that, we’re very thankful for everybody involved in making this happen.”

Ultimately, the competitive salaries will also help reduce violent crime, Balderrama said, despite nationwide predictions that violent crime will continue to rise.

“I’m here to tell you that that’s not going to happen in Fresno because we have the workforce that is going to do the job that is going to be proactive,” he said. “As we add more police officers, we’re going to be able to provide better service. I do expect that this time next year, things are going to be better.”

Fiscal impact

Dyer acknowledged the new contract “maxed out” the city’s budget.

“Quite frankly, after all these negotiations, we have to be very fiscally prudent in terms of the future hiring of officers,” Dyer said.

Plus, the new FPOA contracts will affect other city bargaining units, such as the firefighter union. The firefighters’ contract was finalized last year, but because of a “me too” clause, firefighters also will receive a retroactive raise.

During the news conference, Maxwell noted that last year the City Council passed a police budget that went “above and beyond” what the mayor and chief proposed. The budget included over 850 police officer positions and an “unprecedented” number of community service officers, he said. Plus, the council approved $4 million in spending of American Rescue Plan Act dollars for new police vehicles, he said.

“I just want to make something abundantly clear: Fresno is a city that loves police officers,” Maxwell said. “We are a city that deeply respects our police officers. Fresno is a city that recognizes and acknowledges the extreme courage and sacrifice the men and women in blue in our city do on a daily basis.”

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