FRESNO, California (KGPE) – Tensions are running high at the Fresno Police Department as the union overwhelmingly turned down a contract offered by the city. The previous contract had expired in July.
Fresno Police Officers Association members cited low pay compared to other Valley agencies as one of the biggest deterrents and the FPOA president said they felt “insulted” by the city’s proposal.
“I’ve been with the department 18 years, and I’ve never seen a contract voted down,” said union president Brandon Wiemiller. “From what I’m told. historically it hasn’t happened in about 50 years or so.”
81 percent of the 513 votes rejected the contract.
“One was an operational issue within the contract, but the other overwhelming reason was our compensation compared to other Central Valley agencies,” said Wiemiller, who compared pay to neighboring departments like the Fresno Sheriff’s Office and said their new contract includes higher wages.
“An overarching theme throughout all the comments was that our officers felt very undervalued, unappreciated, and unsupported by the elected leaders of the city. And this offer was a bit of an insult in that way,” he said.
Staffing and retention were another major concern.
“They’re running call to call to call for 10+ hours every day. Their days off aren’t their days off anymore because, to make up for those staffing shortages, they have to work overtime. You can only run officers at that redline level for so long before you start breaking them.”
Chief Paco Balderrama said Fresno is a very competitive market in law enforcement.
“I don’t get to negotiate any actual monetary benefits, but [the contract] was built up to make us one of the highest-paid law enforcement agencies in the Central Valley after three years.”
The chief confirmed recruitment challenges in the last two years.
“The year before we were actually negative 30 in hiring officers. In 2021 we were negative eight, but that’s because we had 69 people leave the police department. So that’s a little bit alarming for me.”
“The chief, to his credit, has launched a very aggressive recruiting campaign, but even then, he doesn’t have much to offer new hires,” said Wiemiller.
In a Fresno Bee article, FPOA members were quoted describing the department as a “sinking ship”.
“That’s a severe exaggeration,” responded Balderrama.
In a statement, Mayor Jerry Dyer weighed in:
“I am very disappointed that we have not been able to finalize a contract with the Fresno Police Officers Association after spending hundreds of hours in negotiations and reaching an agreement with FPOA leadership. My administration will be meeting with the City Council on Thursday during closed session to discuss next steps. As a former police chief I recognize the importance of finalizing this contract as quickly as possible in order to enhance our recruiting and retention efforts.”
It’s unclear when police officers will be presented with a new contract.