In response to the police shootings in New York, members of the New York Police Department, angry at the mayor and perhaps by extension the electorate, have repeatedly turned their backs on the mayor in an effort to show collective contempt.
Contempt is one thing, but essentially “walking off the job” is another. The New York Times editorial board this week published two biting criticisms of the department. On Monday, they wrote, “Mr. de Blasio isn’t going to say it, but somebody has to: With these acts of passive-aggressive contempt and self-pity, many New York police officers, led by their union, are squandering the department’s credibility, defacing its reputation, shredding its hard-earned respect. They have taken the most grave and solemn of civic moments — a funeral of a fallen colleague — and hijacked it for their own petty look-at-us gesture. In doing so, they also turned their backs on Mr. Ramos’s widow and her two young sons, and others in that grief-struck family.”
In the meantime, on Tuesday, the Times cited a New York Post article that found that for the week that began the day the officers were shot, “officers are essentially abandoning enforcement of low-level offenses.” Writes the Times, “traffic citations had fallen by 94 percent over the same period last year, summonses for offenses like public drinking and urination were down 94 percent, parking violations were down 92 percent, and drug arrests by the Organized Crime Control Bureau were down 84 percent.”
They continue, “The data cover only a week, and the reasons for the plunge are not entirely clear. But it is so steep and sudden as to suggest a dangerous, deplorable escalation of the police confrontation with the de Blasio administration.”
The Times calls this action “repugnant and inexcusable.” They write, “It amounts to a public act of extortion by the police.”
The Tuesday editorial proceeds to make the case that the police are not justified in such an extreme reaction – but even if they were, putting the public at risk seems petty and self-serving, and ultimately will undermine whatever self-righteous indignation they have.
The interesting thing is that the actions of the New York Police Department have been playing out for nearly the last two years here in Davis, only in Davis it is the firefighters – angry at perhaps contract situations, personnel cuts, and management changes – who have put public safety at risk in their protests.
While New York police officers turned their back on the mayor, the Davis firefighters held a celebration in April when former City Manager Steve Pinkerton left, which even included a countdown at 5 pm on the Friday that was Mr. Pinkerton’s last day. The actions created an embarrassing situation for public officials and some believe it may have been the final blow in the electoral defeat of Sheila Allen – a candidate for city council who was backed by the firefighters and who attended the event.
But the pettiness and political ploys – such as protests, precinct walking, no confidence votes and celebrations of departed city managers – are one thing, but allowing labor grievances to impact public safety are another.
In November, the Vanguard published data that shows a trend regarding training, that suggests that the Davis firefighters’ union had been effectively engaging in a work slowdown, doing the minimum possible so as to not get in trouble, but cutting back on all other extra work.
The data released by Chief Nathan Trauernicht published by the Vanguard in November, clearly indicated such a trend regarding training. Sources close to the firefighters have told the Vanguard the slowdown has impacted everything that is not contractually required.
The data show a very clear trend from March 2014 to September 2014 where training hours in total, and averaged by employee, dropped from around 30 hours per employee per month down to as low as 15 hours by August, before rebounding slightly back to 20 by September.
Is this clear evidence that Davis firefighters are intentionally reducing their training hours in protest of a number of policies that were implemented over their objections? These include boundary drop, staff reductions from 12 to 11 per shift, decoupling of the rescue apparatus, and, most significantly, the shared management agreement which has put Chief Nathan Trauernicht in charge of both the UC Davis and Davis Fire Departments.
Chief Nathan Trauernicht added fuel to the fire when he posted on the Vanguard, “You have to keep in mind that this is only a SEVEN month snapshot. There can be any number of circumstances that impact training hours.”
He stated, “I do believe that it is reasonable to expect that the hourly trendline SHOULD remain relatively even, increase, or even occasionally dip down to a standard baseline before rising again.”
Does all of this amount to a slowdown on the part of the union president and the membership of the Davis Professional Firefighters Association?
Chief Trauernicht stated, “While I can’t say that the order for a slowdown has has been given (because I don’t know that to be a fact), I can say that we don’t get a lot of eager participation in committees, projects, and in some trainings.”
“The reasoning that is commonly heard goes back to the contract imposition and a myriad of other issues. Morale is very very very low and I actually sympathize with some of it as some of the issues put me, and the rest of the shared management team, in a frustrating if not impossible position of dealing with inherited issues that are significant in magnitude,” he stated.
At the same time, the Chief stated, “I remain hopeful that we will reach the day where, even with the barriers to progress from bargaining and the stigma of fire reforms, we will still find a way to move forward.”
However, unlike the situation in New York, the data and statement by the fire chief hardly received much attention. The training data were not reported in the local press and they were not called out in a local editorial.
Training is critical for firefighters – especially given the relative few numbers of actual active structure fires they face. It keeps the firefighters in practice in terms of dealing with emergencies as well as keeping them up to date on the latest tactics.
By reducing training, they quite possibly have put the public at risk.
Unfortunately, no one has stepped into this situation to put a stop to it. We will await new statistics that hopefully show a reversal in this trend. That said, there was good news in the September report, as well. The data show that boundary drop and the move and cover strategy is working.
Wrote Chief Trauernicht, “You can clearly see the impact of Engine 34’s role now that the boundary has been dropped, and the impact of the new move and cover strategy, in the amount of times that 32 and 33 now stay in their districts ready to provide service to those portions of the community.”
The result is that, despite the drop from 12 to 11 personnel, most people in the community are better covered than they were before the changes.
Chief Trauernicht stated, “It is impressive no matter what issues challenge shared management. Certainly a time for the community to be proud of improved services.”
However, these improvements may be challenged in the coming weeks and months by political forces bent on undoing these changes.
—David M. Greenwald reporting