Nasty police spat unfolding in Westminster over unions
By By Peter Hermann
Dec 14, 2011 at 9:18 AM
A contentious battle is unfolding in the quiet town of Westminster, where rank and file police officers seeking union representation are squaring off against the police chief and mayor, a former state cop with nearly three decades experience.
Town leaders accuse the Fraternal Order of Police of rabble rousing and infiltrating the 45-member department to make trouble and expand their union ranks. A top police union executive says 32 city cops signed a letter wanting to organize to get their voices heard.
The union official, Gary McLhinney, who has his own colorful past as the combative head of the union representing 3,100 Baltimore cops, and as a manager, as the former chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority police, is at the center.
On Monday, McLhinney accused Westminster's police chief of using drug asset forfeiture money to buy iPads and iPhones for him and his top commanders, leaving the cops on the street high and dry. He said officers were forced to work overtime for Walmart, at the expense of patrolling city streets, that the department was dangerously short-staffed, and that the top brass who lived up to 100 miles from work had take-home cars for their commute.
The mayor, police chief and others fired back on Tuesday, saying only the chief got an $832.86 iPad; iPhones for his commanders came out of general funds. He said he's about to hire two officers to fill four patrol vacancies (two command staff positions are frozen because of budget cuts) and he said the Walmart shifts are strictly voluntary.
He also defended the take-home cars for commanders who he said needed be able to get into the office quickly at all hours. That issue has been particularly contentious among the rank and file; the city was forced because of budget cuts to strip patrol officers who live outside the county of that privilege.
I spent an hour with town officials and it's clear they don't like McLhinney, and blame him for trying to unionize their force, which they said would result in binding labor contracts that would cripple the city financially.
"This is nothing more than the Fraternal Order of Police trying to pressure the city, the Police Department and the chief," said Mayor Kevin R. Utz. Added Councilman Tony Chiavacci: "It's a game they're playing, and we're not playing the game."
Retorted McLhinney: "Don't shoot the messenger. Talk to your employees."