Gainesville Police Department currently has 22 vacancies for officers as contract negotiations for officers on the force are underway. The city and police union are meeting today, and salaries and benefits are on the table.

The Gainesville police union felt like it received a slap in the face after trying to negotiate with the city Friday night, a union spokesperson said.

During a 10-hour public hearing, the City Commission voted 4-3 to change officer work schedules and reject the Gainesville police union’s proposal to increase officer’s wages every year. The police chief can designate the hours officers work anywhere between eight to 12 hours, according to the new contract.

The meeting was supposed to settle a two-year-long contract battle between city management and the Gainesville Fraternal Order of Police, the police union spokesperson Matt Goeckel said.

“Overall we’re severely disappointed in the city commission tonight,” Goeckel said. “We feel like they didn’t listen to the public at all for sure.”

About 50 people implored the commission to side with the union’s step plan during public comment.

However after public comment ended, Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos motioned to side with city management’s proposal of a one-time payment of $800 in addition to a flat rate wage increase, and the commission agreed.

GPD officers will receive the highest starting pay and higher average wages compared to University Police and Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies, Hayes-Santos said.

But the flat rate wage increases don’t help the officers’ pay compression issue, which makes it possible for newer officers to make the same amount of money or more as veteran officers, Goeckel said.

Commissioners Gail Johnson, Harvey Ward and Gigi Simmons voted against the motion. Commissioners Hayes-Santos, Helen Warren, David Arreola and Mayor Lauren Poe voted for the motion.

The commission decided against the union’s “step up” plan that would increase officer wages by about 2 percent every year.

GPD Chief Tony Jones was the first to speak during public comment and backed the union’s position.

“We gotta reach a decision tonight. I got to pull the police department back together,” he said.

The commission changed the contract wording to guarantee the schedules would stay the same for six months at a time and officers will be given a four week notice prior to their schedule changing, Hayes-Santos said.

Revisions that took from the union’s proposal included keeping overtime as is and paying officers for three years worth of clothing and dry cleaning allowance, which they didn’t receive during the ongoing contract negotiations.

City management and the local police union renegotiate their contract every three years, but when the most recent contract expired in 2016, the two parties couldn’t agree, Goeckel said. GPD sworn officers have operated without a contract for two years.

The union announced an impasse in May 2017. Although a special magistrate, or independent mediator, sided with the union’s wage proposal in May 2018, city management rejected his opinion.

Police union supporters filled City Hall to the brim to listen to Gainesville residents and former law enforcement officers speak during public comment at 6:45 p.m. By the time public comment was in full swing, over 100 union supporters crowded into City Hall. Those who couldn’t fit in the auditorium watched the livestream from the lobby, break room, conference room and training room.  

Trina Pate, 57, said she came to the meeting to learn why police officers are leaving Gainesville, but she left more confused than before. She said she noticed less officers patrolling the streets and heard about the wage dispute from neighbors.

“Why has this gone on for so long, especially when the magistrate said the money is there?” she said.

Pate and her husband Walter moved to Gainesville from Peoria, Illinois, three years ago after they retired. Since the couple is new to the community, Pate said they’re concerned about how the city treats its officers. Now she doesn’t know if she wants to live in Gainesville.

“For my husband and I to stay here, things will have to change,” she said.

Contact Amanda Rosa at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AmandaNicRosa

Amanda Rosa is a third-year journalism major from Miami Beach, FL. As the crime reporter, she covers breaking news and crime in Gainesville and the University of Florida. She loves drawing, reading and drinking too much coffee.