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After an ‘unusually high’ number of Ala. cops call in sick, mayor vows cost-of-living raise

A police union spokesperson called the 5% raise “unacceptable” and “a slap in the face”

Birmingham Police Department, Alabama

Birmingham Police Department, Alabama

By Carol Robinson

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — At the end of a work week where Birmingham police precincts saw an unusually high number of officers calling in “sick,” Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin on Friday promised an imminent cost of living increase.

“I think that is something you deserve,’’ Woodfin said in ‘’Tele Townhall.”

Woodfin was joined on the call by Acting Police Chief Scott Thurmond, as well as other top-ranking police officials and representatives from city’s Department of Human Resources.

The mayor said he will present a 5 percent cost of living raise for all city employees to go into effect before the end of this fiscal year with confidence that it will be approved by the city council and Jefferson County Personnel Board.

Woodfin also said merit raises will continue in the next fiscal year and the city will absorb an upcoming 9 percent increase in health insurance.

“That is our way of saying, ‘Thank you,’’ the mayor said.

For many officers, concerned over staffing shortages and their pay and pension, it wasn’t enough.

“It was unacceptable,’’ said Officer Lawrence Billups, Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Fraternal Order of Police. “It is a slap in the face to the men and women of the police department.”

“Everybody’s mad,’’ Billups said. “They are absolutely outraged.”

“As it stands now, the mayor is not being cooperative,’’ he said. “He has to go back and get his numbers right.”

On Tuesday, a “disproportionate number” of officers called in sick and it appears likely to be repeated.

[RELATED: Is a ‘blue flu’ the right way for officers to make their voices heard?]

Police officials have not said how many officers were absent but Thurmond in an earlier statement said, “All Birmingham Police Department precincts are adequately staffed to efficiently answer calls and provide quality services for the City of Birmingham.”

Officers said some of them were told to stay on after their 10-hour shifts had ended and detectives were ordered to have their uniforms on should they be needed to help.

FOP President Otis Luke told earlier this week that the organization “does not condone any type of ‘blue flu’ or sick out and we are encouraging officers if they are able, to report to work.”

Friday’s teleconference was announced after the “sick out,” and lasted about 45 minutes during which officers were allowed to submit questions via text message or by telephone. The mayor also held teleconferences with Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service and the Department of Public Works.

Woodfin and Thurmond both discussed the trouble law enforcement nationwide is experiencing in recruiting officers.

A Birmingham Police Academy class set to begin in April has been canceled because of a lack of candidates – only two were approved - and the next class is now set for July.

Officers asked a range of questions about pay, pension and other incentives. The biggest question was why they couldn’t get a raise from anywhere to 5 percent to 20 percent.

“The city doesn’t have the money,’’ Woodfin said. “We’re not the federal government. We can’t print money. We have to stay within our budget.”

Asked why it would be hard to commit to a 20 percent increase, Woodfin said, “It’s humanly impossible. I’m unaware of any city in America that’s ever done that.”

Woodfin also addressed the unofficial “sickout.”

“I get it. You want higher pay,’’ he said. “As I’ve expressed before, you deserve higher pay.”

“As an administration, we want to do everything we can to take care of ya’ll,’’ Woodfin said. “When you signed up for this job, you took an oath, you swore an oath.”

“For you not to show up for your job is considered AWOL,’’ the mayor said. “We have citizens to protect.”

“Every year you have my commitment that we’re going to do everything we can to adjust pay,’’ he said. “I hope you want to be here because you signed up to be here.”

“You deserve protection from this administration, this city, and as your employer we will continue to provide those protections,’’ Woodfin said. “However, there are rules when you sign up as an employee. Your employer will enforce those rules.”

Thurmond also addressed the outage issue.

“When we call in sick, we disserve our fellow officers,’’ Thurmond said. “We know we’re short. We’re doing everything we can to correct that. Some of it is beyond our control. There’s not a lot of people lining up to be a police officer.”

He asked the officers to continue to work with them.

“These problems didn’t occur overnight and they’re not going to get fixed overnight but I assure you we will work day and night to work as quickly as possible,’’ Thurmond said. “I encourage you all to work hard. I know these are difficult times, I really do.”

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