Around Town Hall: Southampton Inks New Contract With Police Union

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Southampton Town and its police officers’ union have signed off on a new four-year contract that will pave the way for the municipality to implement a new scheduling protocol for officers, known as “steady tours.”

The Southampton Town Patrolman’s Benevolent Association overwhelming ratified the new contract on Friday night, according to the union’s vice president, Officer Kevin Gwinn, despite several concessions from the officers, including annual raises that are lower than those received by other Long Island departments, and the reliance on part-time officers to cover certain patrols. The Town Board approved the contract on Tuesday night.

“The PBA is very happy with the contract, because it addresses not only the needs of our membership but the services we provide to the community,” Officer Gwinn said on Wednesday. “First and foremost, we are police officers, and that’s the reason we are here. Everything else is secondary.”

The new contract, which is retroactive to the start of 2013, will give officers 2-percent annual raises, though they will also work four more days per year, or 236 days, than they have in the past.

Also, the contract gives the town the option of exploring new health care plans that, if implemented, could save money, though any modifications to those policies would have to be approved by the union before the town could switch plans.

The town will also be able to use part-time officers to fill more of the patrols in Sagaponack Village, a concession that saved the town from having to hire more full-time officers to meet the obligations of an agreement with that village that was reached earlier this year, after village officials threatened to create its own police force. Such a move would have meant a loss of more than $2 million annually in the police department budget.

The use of part-time officers for those patrols had been a major sticking point in the contract negotiations in recent months.

“The demand that Sagaponack had made was two officers for each shift, so this contract allows us to man those shifts with one full-time officer and one part-timer,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who negotiated the contract on behalf of the town. “That has huge implications for us with regard to the police budget. We would have had to hire three or four full-time officers just to cover that sector. That concession was crucial to implementing that agreement, so we didn’t have any impact to the police budget.”

For the PBA, the main win in the accord was the implementation of steady tours, or steady shifts, starting next year. Steady tours will mean that officers will work fixed schedules in one of their three daily eight-hour shifts. Currently, officers work a rotating schedule, jumping from overnight shifts, to midday ones to afternoon tours on a weekly basis.

The officers’ union has long argued that the steady tour program is less stressful on officers.

“We’ve been asking for steady shifts since 1994, so we’re happy to say that we now have that opportunity,” Officer Gwinn said. “It’s lower stress and it’s a healthier way of working. When you’re healthy, you’re happy, morale is up and [it] makes for a better police department.”

Ms. Throne-Holst said the town hopes the change will translate into financial savings in the long run.

“The science on it is that it reduces injuries, reduces sick time and, we hope, also reduces overtime,” she said. “In some instances, it has been shown to do that, in others, no, so we’ll see how it pans out.”

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