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Written by APB Staff   

The goal of the recent hearings before the Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations is to determine which U.S. cities are comparable to Omaha. The commission will then base Omaha police wages and benefits on those offered to officers in those cities.

Mayor Mike Fahey handed the contract dispute to the Commission last spring after negotiations stalled. Representatives for the city and the police officers that work them agree on three comparable cities. Those are St. Paul, Minn., Tulsa, Okla., and Oklahoma City. The city also wants the commission to consider basing Omaha's police contract on Madison, Wisconsin, Kansas City, Missouri, Wichita, Kansas, as well as Lincoln, Nebraska and Des Moines, Iowa.

But the police union made clear that size alone isn't a good metric on which comparisons would be made. Other factors should include those cities' working conditions, including economic conditions, the presence of gangs and violent crime, and police department structure, said Tom Dowd, the union's attorney. Retired Deputy Police Chief Mary Schindler visited and sent surveys to the cities preferred by the police union: Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio; Denver; and Fort Worth, Texas. The police union took particular issue with including Lincoln in the comparison.

For one thing, the Lincoln, NE Police Department has no rank of lieutenant. Instead, its captains perform the duties of both police captains and lieutenants. Also, some Lincoln patrol officers investigate some crimes, such as burglaries. In Omaha, patrol officers take the initial crime reports and then turn investigations over to a detective in a specialty unit.

John Cripe, in the day's most revealing testimony, disagreed. Cripe is the personnel director for Lincoln and Lancaster County and a private human resources consultant who testified on behalf of the city. He also was a Lincoln police officer for 16 years after working briefly for the FBI.

"My general opinion is that police work is police work,'' he said. Cripe delivered a batch of opinions that the Omaha police union is likely to take issue with, including that Omaha police pensions should be based on the final 33 months of employment. "This city deserves better and so does this department," said Dennis Sexton in a recent editorial in the Omaha Police Association's publication, the Shield.

"We're doing all we can to stay above water and it's time the city did something to keep us afloat." Currently, pensions are calculated on an officer's 12 highest-paid months during the past five years. The adjustment would put Omaha in line with what other police departments are doing, Cripe said.

Pension calculations should not include wages earned from overtime, comp time or holiday pay, he said. Also, health care for retirees should be eliminated, according to Cripe. City retirees currently may stay on Omaha's health care plan until they become eligible for Medicare.

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