City officials and leaders for the Fort Worth Police Officers Association reached a tentative agreement Thursday on a new contract covering the city’s 1,625 officers that paves the way for across-the-board raises and incentive pay increases over the four years of the contract.
The proposed 95-page contract must still be ratified by the officers and approved by the City Council. That process should take place later this month and in May.
With the exception of the pay raise for the first year, the contract would be retroactive to Oct. 1, 2016, and will run through Sept. 30, 2020. The pay increases will start June 1 with officers receiving a 2.2 percent increase. On Oct. 1, the officers will receive another 2 percent increase. They’ll also receive 3.1 percent increases on Oct. 1, 2018, and again on Oct. 1, 2019.
But, to capture the eight months the officers have gone without a pay raise as the new contract was being negotiated, the two sides negotiated to create a nearly $2.4 million pool that will be equally divided among the officers in June as a signing bonus.
Ron DeLord, an attorney representing the Police Officers Association, said the equal lump sum “would have a little better impact on officers making less money. We’re OK with the distribution.”
Assistant City Manager Valerie Washington said, under state law, the city could not make the pay increase retroactive to Oct. 1.
All told, the new contract means the police budget for wages and benefits will increase by about $20.3 million over the four years.
The tentative agreement reached Thursday ends negotiations that took place on and off over the past 16 months. While both sides said the talks went smoothly, there were some sticking points, including wages, hiring standards and the use of polygraph tests for all new hires.
In addition to the pay increases, incentive pay for earning college degrees and advanced certifications are also going up significantly for officers.
And, beginning in September, officers can receive a $1,000 bonus for passing physical fitness tests, up from the $300 bonus offered under the current contract. The city anticipates 90 percent of the officers participating in the physical fitness program.
Washington said the city based its pay increase on a study of police salaries regionally.
“We want the best and brightest officers we can get in Fort Worth,” Washington said. “I honestly believe that what we’ve put on the table will help us recruit good people, and I hope it shows our current officers we’re listening and we care.”
Association President Sgt. Rick Van Houten said he appreciated the city’s willingness to increase incentives as well.
“We’ve been cognizant of the national recruiting crisis going on, which is why we paid close attention to giving the city flexibility in hiring,” Van Houten said. “This contract as whole puts us in the position where we can be the most attractive in North Texas, if not all of Texas.”
Recruitment was an issue during negotiations. Early on, the association agreed to give Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald a larger number of positions that can be filled by lateral hires, a program that allows certified police officers working at other police departments to join the Fort Worth department at pay commensurate with their experience.
Now, Fitzgerald annually can hire 60 officers through the lateral entry program, but for every officer above that, he has to hire a new recruit. The current contract allows for 30 lateral hires.
The police officers association, though, agreed to give the chief six additional appointed positions at the rank of commander, upping to 16 the number of officers the chief can select and name to positions.
The police officers association won language regarding overtime pay and advanced scheduling for working special events, which will significantly increase with the opening of the new multipurpose arena in the Will Rogers Complex in a couple of years.
“With the new arena, we don’t know what’s going to be added,” Van Houten said. “When this arena’s done, it’s going to add 100 to 130 events a year. We’re going to be overwhelmed.”
The use of body camera information became an issue during negotiation as well, with the association obtaining the right for officers to review body camera footage before having to make a statement on an incident.
The new proposed contract also clears up language on holiday pay and will allow the chief to hire a couple more civilians for positions now held by police officers.
Negotiating with Van Houten were Lt. Pedro Criado, president of the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization, and Sgt. Michael Williams, president of the Fort Worth Black Law Enforcement Officers Association.