The Underpaid Raleigh Police Force and The City of Oz

Cops and Robbers

December, 08, 2008, by Peter Eichenberger

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Raleigh’s new Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center (The Emerald City of Oz). Image from last week’s presentation before the City Council.

Back in the old pre-crash days, my relationship with the man was never what you’d call adversarial, more professional in a perverse sort of way, merely a component of the operational conditions which occasionally didn’t go my way.
“My job is to have fun,” I told one arresting officer as he cuffed me. “Your job is to try and catch me. You caught me.” He made this sort of muffled, choking sound.
“But you’re gonna have to catch me every time!” Then he laughed. I had a good run with the not being caught part. That was the sum of my relationship with law enforcement—nothing personal, just business. The policeman’s lot is not a happy one, in part courtesy of jerks like me.
As with another even lower paid, necessary occupation, schoolteacher, the demands on the fuzz are constant and at times overwhelming. A good cop is something like a cross between a hall monitor, psychiatrist and a priest/rabbi. Lord knows, somebody has to do it. The nature of the job sets up a dualistic and adversarial relationship (a wall) between them and everybody else (one my skinny free thinkin’ self sure wouldn’t be crazy about being part of). The legislative bodies make stupid laws and the guys and girlies in blue have to go enforce them, as with the drug laws, now under deserved and long-forestalled scrutiny for the failure they are. Come on, fess up, cops and legislators, how many of y’all smoke weed every now and then? I for one had a Baltimore Homicide guy bragging about the indoor grow operation he was going to rig up after his retirement.
A fine example of the lack of respect and consideration would be Raleigh government chomping at the bit for the new $226 million headquarters while RPD is having an officer retention, um, problem. The old capo of the School of Design (College of Design) shop, Hubert Champion, had a saying, “don’t make vast plans with half vast ideas.” The now-imaginary Emerald City of Oz reminds me a lot of that wisdom. What good is a new PD headquarters when you don’t have people to fill it? Oz is destined to be finished in a decade or two and these jokers downtown can’t even figure out how to keep a full complement of cops in a cupcake jurisdiction like Raleigh. Not to disparage the work law enforcement do in Raleigh, this blast is directed at the city daddies and mommies: one of the lowest crime rates in the state (depending on the zip code) and you are having trouble with officer retention? I’ve lived in some real crime towns: NYC; Gainesville, Florida; Oakland, California. The average police officer in those places would bolt for Raleigh in a Dallas second if things were equal. The fact that this burg can’t prevent its officers from hanging up their handcuffs points to problems that a new building won’t fix: something to do with promotion and, you guessed it, pay.
I witnessed City Council prattling on about the City of Oz and the cop retention thing not twenty minutes apart at the City Council meeting on December 2nd. Numbing.

Due to shortfalls, the department has officers on 12, let me spell it, TWELVE hour shifts. Think about driving around in a squad car for a shift and a half for a week or so. The best Raleigh offers by way of reward is comp time, which most cops can’t opportune themselves of because of the demands of the understaffed duty roster. Comp time is a use-it-or-lose-it situation. When the year runs out, so do your comp-time hours. Overtime? Fuhgetaboutit. Russell Allen, the city manager, spoke vaguely about the cost of overtime. Let’s see, y’all are getting ready to throw down another big ole huge-ass stack of bills on your pretty new home, adding to Raleigh’s rising level of indebtedness, while at the same time you can’t retain cops because you don’t pay them enough to live? You don’t need me to tell you that we have problems, right here in River City. Hey, Charlotte doesn’t seem to be suffering with this “problem,” but what do they know, the show-offs, with their fancy pants mass transit and all.
The rules of order and proper decorum nearly came unhinged when a suggestion made to police officers was repeated in council: supplementing their take-home with off-duty work. That was when I almost lost it. I bit my tongue and did not start yelling, “You expect these people to ride around in a squad car for twelve hours THEN go and watch the door at a nightclub somewhere? When are they supposed to get some fuggin’ sleep?”
Before we get blinded by another glittering bauble under the Christmas tree, let’s think about this. Every time we turn around, those who claim to operate in the people’s interest are stacking yet another grandiose hallucination on the taxpayers, visions that serve to enrich the usual suspects, consultants, planners, architects, contractors, suppliers, lah-tee-tah—the Convention Center. The paint isn’t even dry and the city is being forced to offer huge discounts to find customers, just as I predicted a few years ago. People, let’s make better use of what we have. First of all, let’s put our cash where our priorities are, in public safety, and do more for our people than attempting to placate them with silly empty suggestions.
Or, we could stay the course and save money with more of the medicine the city is taking, whatever it is. Raleigh’s fiscal issues could, by inaction, be ameliorated via officer attrition. Just run the entire police force off! No overtime, no benefits, no pesky salaries. Think of the savings! Oh, hold me!

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Ptrblt, Other posts by Peter Eichenberger.


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  • Klep
    12/08 10:57 PM

    Considering the entire complex won’t be completed until 2027, the price tag doesn’t seem horrible.  I guess they could build a smaller facility and tear it down when they outgrow it and build a slightly larger facility, then tear that down when they outgrow it until they’ve nickel and dimed their way to half-a-billion dollars.

  • CDGM
    12/09 10:33 PM

    Raleigh is not alone in this arena.  I’m an ex law enforcement officer, and worked on the road, and as an undercover narcotics officer for 2 separate counties, both of which faced the same obstacles as the Raleigh PD.. understaffed, overworked, and underpaid.. makes for a very quick burnout rate… thus the “ex” in front of my law enforcement career.
    unfortunately its that way almost everywhere…

  • Jerimee
    12/10 01:29 PM

    Thank you for this post.  Well said.  All city employees ought to be able to afford to live in the city they serve.

  • Enigma
    12/11 07:54 PM

    If not for the jerks like the author Raleigh wouldn’t need as many officers, and then the salaries for the ones required would be higher.

    Quoted from above - “My job is to have fun,“ I told one arresting officer as he cuffed me. “Your job is to try and catch me. You caught me.“ He made this sort of muffled, choking sound. “But you’re gonna have to catch me every time!“ Then he laughed. I had a good run with the not being caught part. That was the sum of my relationship with law enforcement—nothing personal, just business. The policeman’s lot is not a happy one, in part courtesy of jerks like me.”

    Is it just me or does anyone else see the hypocrisy???

  • NRcynic
    12/14 11:53 AM

    The latest imported chief of police made changes in shifts presumably to save money, so the cops got more money but the shifts are terrible and morale is low.  The rest of the city is following suit.  Even the garbage collectors are getting hit by increased shift time without extra pay as their numbers diminish.  Most city of Raleigh employees, in fact, are paid lower than national averages and are stuck in a weak retirement system. As with all city employees, the burdens of work are increasing while the tax base continues to explode.  This is very evident with the police force.  Why so with the cops?  Downtown redevelopment and section 8 housing are reeking havoc on the makeup of crime distribution within and around Raleigh.  Unsuspecting suburban communities are drawing parallels with much larger cities such as Memphis and Manhattan.  Ask citizens and police outside of the urban core of those cities if the quality of life has improved as downtown property values increase. Giuliani cleaned up NYC by shipping the ghetto west of the Hudson, making Manhattan look like a new urban Utopia for the few who can afford to live there.  Even Harlem has become a place to be.  I also understand that you can buy a lovely condo in the old flophouse above CB’s.  While the hip Glenwood South is as polished as a cops spit-shined shoes, working class Raleigh is seeing an increase in crime and a deterioration in quality of life.  The once manageable concentration of crime is beginning to cover vast areas with no particular epicenter.  The job for the cops is harder and becoming more so.  Will our new urban development plans help? The blind ignorance enjoyed by Raleighites for so many years will inevitably result in a rude awakening as we depart our Podunk mentality.  As the kids of N. Raleigh’s past move downtown and demonize their roots, the influx of domestic immigrants will still see Raleigh as an improvement from the cities that they have long since abandoned.  How long before that happens here?  This place is no different.  I say let’s build a big new police building.  Let’s tear down our new convention center and build a new one.  Maybe we can invade Wake Forest or Rolesville to claim new territory.  I do hope the walk to the Opera is safe.  Really, I can’t even get anywhere on the bus in under two hours.  What the hell is going on here?

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