Cops Offered Option To Drive Their Patrol Cars Home. It Came With Costly Catch

OPA-LOCKA, FL — In Opa-locka, where the police department is already underpaid and undermanned, the chief offered a perk last week — but it came with a catch.

The city’s 42 uniformed officers were offered the option of taking home their patrol cars. But only if they agreed for the department to deduct $50 from each paycheck, a charge that would add up $1,300 a year.

The officers, already saddled with low pay, old equipment and old cars, quickly slammed the door on the chief’s offer. Miami-Dade’s Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents the officers, threatened a lawsuit for unfair labor practices if the plan was put in place without negotiations.

They pointed out that other departments like Miami and Miami-Dade don’t charge cops to take home their patrol cars. And neighboring Miami Gardens recently worked out a contract agreement for take home cars for considerably less money than Opa-locka police would have paid.

“Chief, the memo violates the terms and conditions of employment outlined in our contract,” PBA Assistant General Counsel Simone Lopez wrote last Wednesday. “This must be negotiated with the PBA during bargaining, as it is a change in the status quo. I’m requesting this memo be rescinded in the same manner that is was originally generated. If not, this amounts to an unfair labor practice lawsuit.”

By the next day, Opa-locka Police Chief James Dobson backed off, sending a memo to officers saying any agreement would have to take place during a new bargaining session.

“We will look at this again during contract negotiations,” the chief said.

As it stands now, only supervisors in the troubled department have take home cars. And for the most part, the patrol cars used by the department are older models with lots of mileage that were acquired from other departments throughout Miami-Dade.

Opa-locka police are currently operating under a 2014 labor agreement that expired almost two years ago. That contract says officers don’t have to request permission for a take home vehicle unless they live outside of Miami-Dade or Broward and live more than 50 miles from the police station.

Had the new policy initiated by the chief been implemented, it would have been far costlier than the one worked out in neighboring MIami Gardens and a big hit to officers at one of the lowest paid police departments in South Florida. The pay scale for Miami Gardens police is also significantly higher than in Opa-locka.

The city of Miami Gardens recently worked out an agreement with police in which cops pay amounts that rise depending on how many miles an officer lives from the city. Inside 28 miles and a cop pays $32 a paycheck. If an officer lives between 28 and 53 miles away, the fee rises to $48.

Miami Gardens police also negotiated raises and a merit step pay plan in their most recent contract. Opa-locka police, who are supposed to be getting step increases in pay, have not had a raise since their contract expired in 2017.

Several Opa-locka police officers, who wished to remain anonymous, were angered by the intended unilateral move by the administration in a department where cops are forced to use old equipment and cars and in which police had to recently move into City Hall because police headquarters had a leaky roof and was growing mold.

“This is something you negotiate,” said one officer.

Opa-locka has been trying to recover from a near financial meltdown a few years ago, caused in large part by political corruption that landed several city leaders in jail. Forced cost-cutting by a state-appointed financial oversight board led to the police department’s budget being cut by about 20 percent.

Ten positions were eliminated – about 20 percent of the force – and some officers fled for other departments. Even today, any financial decisions in Opa-locka must get a stamp of approval from a state-appointed oversight board.

Asked Monday about the stalled program, Dobson said he had to remain mum until a deal is worked out.

“I’m not making any comments now because we’re working with the PBA attorney,” said Dobson. “For now, there are no take home vehicles,” for staff.

From The Miami Herald