Although he called a city contract offer "a slap in the face" to Baltimore's police force, the head of the police union said yesterday he is heading back to the bargaining table with no plans to threaten a strike.
"The guys are that mad, but they're not going to go on strike," said Lt. Leander S. Nevin, head of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3. "They know they can't do it. It won't be planned, fostered or nurtured in any way."
In its largest turnout ever for a contract vote, police union members Wednesday night resoundingly rejected a two-year contract offer that would have given them a 2 1/4 -percent raise the first year and a 5 1/4 -percent raise the next year. The vote was 1,477 to 38.
By law, police agencies cannot strike. But that didn't stop 887 Baltimore officers from going on strike during a pay dispute in July 1974 -- the first major police strike in the nation since the 1918 Boston walkout.
Lieutenant Nevin said he doesn't expect a repeat performance of the 1974 illegal strike, which resulted in a rash of lootings and a huge leap in crime.
"It wouldn't accomplish anything," he said.
City Labor Commissioner Melvin A. Harris said yesterday that he was "extremely disappointed" that police turned down the proposed raises.
"I thought we had offered them a good deal," he said. "We'll go back to the bargaining table, probably Monday. If we can make some adjustments, we will. But the city has limited resources. We have to be fiscally responsible."
Several officers at Wednesday's vote spoke bitterly about the city's contract offer, which would have been retroactive to July 1.
They said it did little to bring them closer in pay to their counterparts in suburban counties. City officers start at $23,000 a year and top off at $34,000, less than salaries on any of the surrounding police forces.
Union officials have blamed low salaries and no raises for an exodus of officers in the past year. The department is expected to have 700 retirements in 1994, according to police officials.
"It's been take, take, take and take," said Officer Sandy Kracke, an Eastern District patrol officer who went to the union meeting with her husband, Officer Gary Kracke of the Southwestern District. She carried her 10-week-old daughter, Heather Ashley Kracke, in a baby seat.
"What's it going to take until they realize that the Police Department needs more?" Officer Sandy Kracke said. "We have families, too."
Several officers were angered by a portion of the proposal that would have taken away five of their vacation days. They also were skeptical about the proposed second-year raise. During the contract negotiated two years ago, the city rescinded a 4 percent raise due to statewide budget problems.
"What's to keep them from just taking it from us again?" said Lieutenant Nevin, the union chief.
The city's proposal also would have paved the way for Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier's rotation policy, which would require officers in a specialized unit to transfer after four years.
The commissioner has said the policy is essential for developing well-rounded officers.
But Herb Weiner, a union attorney, said the policy is unfair to veteran officers. "These are guys who have trained hard, done a good job, and now they want to throw them out."