Boosting morale for Sacramento police officers comes at a price

Daniel Hahn shares a laugh with Mayor Darrell Steinberg before he is sworn in as police chief on Aug. 11.
Daniel Hahn shares a laugh with Mayor Darrell Steinberg before he is sworn in as police chief on Aug. 11. hamezcua@sacbee.com

To improve morale at the Sacramento Police Department and to give new Chief Daniel Hahn every chance to succeed, it’s worth giving officers a sizable pay hike.

But it does come at a steep price to the city’s taxpayers – about $20.6 million in the next two years.

While the City Council would be wise to approve the new contract with the Sacramento Police Officers Association on Tuesday, council members should also clearly say that in return, they expect officers to be more open and responsive to the public.

That has to be the bargain going forward to rebuild the frayed trust between the department and the community.

The union membership supports the contract. Chief Hahn told The Bee’s editorial board that it gives him “guarded optimism” that officers will stop leaving the department and see it as a great place to work.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg also backs the deal, saying it is fiscally responsible and also demonstrates the city’s “steadfast commitment to our police officers.”

After all, it is one of the most important public service jobs there is – and one of the most dangerous. Just Thursday, two Sacramento officers were shot and wounded while pursuing a suspect in a double homicide. Some fellow officers who responded to the shootout scene arrived directly from the memorial service for a Sacramento sheriff’s deputy killed in the line of duty a week earlier.

Under the contract that runs through June 21, 2019, rank-and-file officers get a 3 percent raise retroactive to June 24, then a 2 percent bump on Dec. 22, and another 2 percent next June 23. Officers with at least 4½ years on duty will get 5 percent plus 5 percent. That’s supposed to stem the loss of officers to other law agencies after they learn the ropes here at Sacramento’s expense.

The proposed contract also includes two sweeteners that are overdue and should help the department relate to diverse residents. One offers a $5,000 incentive for officers to buy a home inside the city. The union says only about 100 of its 715 members actually live in Sacramento.

The other increases bilingual pay from $40 a month to 2 percent of base salary. Even as the department tries to diversify its ranks, it also makes sense to have more officers speak Spanish or other languages.

And as the city’s next step in trying to control pension costs, the contract calls for civilian employees to increase their contributions to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which uniformed officers have already done. That will save the city about $158,000 in the next two years.

The pay hikes are in addition to nearly $1.4 million the city approved in March for one-time payments – $2,150 for officers, $2,000 for sergeants and $1,000 for dispatchers –– to help close a pay gap with neighboring departments. Because the previous contract expired June 23, the city is also spending $5.3 million for back pay.

And because the city is no longer approving long-term contracts, it and the union will be back at the negotiating table in about 15 months. By then, the payoff from this deal will be clearer and can shape the next one.