St. Paul police officers will be getting raises — more than 11 percent staggered over three years — in a new contract approved Wednesday by the city council. Starting pay for officers also will be increased, after city officials expressed concern that it could be keeping more people from applying for the job.
And a new provision for “restorative justice,” which could be used when an officer is being investigated internally or disciplined, has been added to the contract with the police union.
“The whole purpose of this is to change behavior and sometimes just discipline isn’t the best tool to use,” said Jason Schmidt, St. Paul labor relations manager.
Mayor Melvin Carter asked the negotiating team to look at other possibilities and the idea of restorative justice came up, Schmidt said.
The other contracts settled by the city of St. Paul this year have an 8 percent wage increase over three years, Schmidt said.
The St. Paul Police Federation has long said the city’s 600 officers are paid less than those in surrounding cities.
In January, when the city extended the deadline for police officer applications because a smaller-than-expected number applied, Police Chief Todd Axtell said a challenge to recruiting “the highest quality police officer candidates” was the department continuing “to slip lower in the rankings in police officer pay in the metro area.”
The new police contract increases starting pay for an officer by $6,000 to about $62,000 annually, which will more closely match Minneapolis police starting pay, Schmidt said.
“We felt we needed to be in a position to attract the best and the brightest,” he said.
Before the wage increases, an officer with 10 years of seniority in St. Paul makes about $80,000 annually; they earn more if they have special assignments, such as being on the SWAT team.
Over a 30-year career, St. Paul police officers are currently ranked 17th for pay compared with other departments in the metro area, according to the St. Paul Police Federation’s analysis.
After the final wage increases in 2020, they estimate they’ll be ranked 13th for pay.
The pay raises are “a good step in the right direction,” said Dave Titus, police union president. “We thank the mayor and labor relations for acknowledging and addressing the recruitment and retention issue.”
Thirteen contracts for city of St. Paul employees in non-trade jobs expired at the end of last year, and the city has reached tentative agreements or new contracts for 11 of them. Negotiations are underway for the remaining two.
The new police union contract says the police chief or union “may propose reduced punishment if employee agrees to participate in restorative justice,” which “is a system of justice that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.”
It could include the officer meeting with the person who filed the complaint, department-sponsored community service or additional training, according to the contract.
How the restorative justice process will be implemented will be left to Axtell’s discretion, Schmidt said.
One potential scenario Titus sees: If someone files a complaint, saying an officer “could have phrased a conversation in a different way, but it doesn’t rise to the level of discipline,” Titus said the restorative justice process could be used, if all sides agree to it.
The person who filed the complaint and the officer would meet, along with a supervisor, to talk through what happened.
“It’s meant to create a positive atmosphere of understanding and constructive conversation,” Titus said.