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N.H. city, police settle 'donning and doffing' time

By Annmarie Timmins
The Concord Monitor

CONCORD, N.H. — Concord's police officers settled their federal lawsuit with the city Friday after the city agreed to start paying them to put on their uniforms before a shift and take care of paperwork and equipment after a shift.

Prior to the court case, the police complained they were spending about 30 minutes of their own time each day on those work duties. Now the police will get 20 minutes, split between the start andof each shift, to suit up for work and wrap up for the day, a process called "donning and doffing."

The settlement spares the city and the Concord Police Patrolman's Association an expensive trial. But it wasn't reached without costs.

Under the terms of the deal, each of the 58 officers and detectives named in the lawsuit will be paid $100 toward their legal expenses. The city, meanwhile, spent between $12,000 and $15,000 on its legal costs, City Manager Tom Aspell said. And officers will receive compensation for 17 months of unpaid "donning and doffing" time in one of two ways.

The seven officers who have since left the department will share a cash payment of $9,600, Aspell said. And the other 51 officers still with the city will receive additional time off. Aspell said the value of that extra time is $63,000.

All those costs will be covered in the existing budget, largely because the $63,000 in extra time is not an immediate expense. The only immediate expenses total between $27,400 and $30,400 and will ultimate depend on the city's final legal cost.

Detective Mark Dumas, president of the police union, said yesterday he was pleased with the resolution: "We are happy to see this behind us." His regret, Dumas said, was that the matter landed in court at all.

The police union and the city began negotiating the "donning and doffing" matter a few years ago, under a previous police chief, city manager and mayor. Dumas said former chief Jerry Madden scheduled officers in a way that required them to get into uniform and wrap up for the day on their own time.

"Sometimes you work beyond your (paid) day," Dumas said. "That happens in every profession. But when you are set up to work that way, it's different." In addition to making sure their uniform is complete, officers must also tend to a long list of equipment that includes two handguns, spare magazines for those guns, handcuffs, pepper spray, knife and a protective vest.

Dumas said the union initially asked only for the schedule change. "We didn't want back pay, and this was never about money," Dumas said. "We just wanted it fixed."

When the union was unable to negotiate a schedule change with Madden, it raised the possibility of a federal lawsuit. When nothing changed, Dumas said, the union decided to follow though with the court case. At the time, police departments across the country were bringing similar lawsuits.

"We felt (the city) was not taking us seriously," Dumas said. "Still, it was a very hard thing for us to do. And it took us a long time of talking with our members to file it."

By the time the lawsuit was filed in April, Madden had retired and then-Maj. Robert Barry was serving as acting chief. Barry was named the new chief in September, and that made the difference, Dumas said. Before Barry left work that first day, Dumas said he sat down with the police union and said he wanted to resolve the lawsuit.

Within the first week, Barry had begun changing the work schedule so officers and detectives had time within their paid workday to get into uniform at the start of a shift and take care of paperwork and gear at theof a shift.

Three months later, in early December, the union's lawyer notified the federal court that the case had been settled. But the two sides didn't file the terms of the settlement until theof last week. Barry has referred calls about the case to Aspell, who yesterday called the settlement a matter of fairness.

The city still disagrees with the union that federal labor law requires the city to pay its police officers to suit up for work. But Aspell said the city concluded it was only right that the city cover that time.

"There are certain things the police have to do that other folks don't have to do in terms of being prepared," Aspell said. "Because of that, it made sense to change the way we do things. You don't want them working on their own time." He said he didn't believe this settlement would lead to similar requests from other city departments.

Aspell said the police officers compromised too. They had wanted 30 minutes to don and doff their uniforms but agreed to accept 20 instead. Aspell was not specific when asked why the city had waited until a lawsuit to make the schedule change if doing so is a matter of fairness.

When asked whether it was a result of a change in police chief, city manager and mayor, Aspell didn't exactly disagree. "That may have something to do with it," he said. "We had three fresh sets of eyes looking at this."

Copyright 2008 Concord Monitor

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