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Town will challenge part of arbitrator’s ruling on police contract

May 16, 2023  Updated May 19, 2023 at 6:13 p.m.

After a prolonged labor dispute that has seen Brookline police officers working without a contract since 2020, a state-appointed arbitrator has issued a binding decision that gives officers retroactive cost-of-living increases and makes official a new camera policy that will soon require officers to use body and vehicle cameras in certain situations.

One piece of the contract remains in dispute. In what could be a precedent-setting appeal affecting communities across the state, the town is challenging the arbitrator’s decision to award officers an additional stipend for a new type of certification required by the 2020 police reform law that created the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission.

While the result of the contract arbitration is legally binding, Brookline’s Select Board voted last week to file an appeal against the POST piece of the award.

The arbitrator concluded that the new certification will have a “significant impact on the lives and work of police officers,” and awarded police officers an additional 4% raise, above the 8.5% cost-of-living increases it granted over the retroactive three-year life of the contract.

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Town officials contend that the certification mostly amounts to extra paperwork for police chiefs and argue that the arbitrator does not have the authority to order Brookline to pay the additional compensation.

Brookline would be the first community to be ordered by a state-appointed arbitrator to pay a salary increase to officers because of POST certification, Town Counsel Joe Callanan told the Select Board. “An arbitrator should not have been able to consider that,” Town Administrator Charles Carey said.

Representatives of the police union did not respond to a request for comment.

In awarding the cost-of-living increases, the arbitrator considered pay in four nearby communities that both the town and the union deemed comparable to Brookline – Arlington, Needham, Newton and Watertown. “Brookline patrol officers are the lowest paid of the five communities,” the arbitration ruling states. “Average compensation of the four agreed-upon communities is approximately $94,681, while the total compensation for Brookline patrol officers is $84,954.”

Under the new camera rules, officers will be required to activate cameras in 10 specific situations, as well as “any other civilian contact or official duty that the officer reasonably believes should be recorded to enhance policing transparency, increase public trust and police-community relations or preserve factual representations of officer-civilian interactions.”

Circumstances specified in the policy include vehicle stops, vehicle pursuits, dispatched calls for service that involve civilians, initial responses by patrol officers and prisoner transport.

Town Meeting will vote later this month on funding for the contract. The town estimates the cost of the contract at almost $3.3 million, which exceeds its budget by more than $980,000. Even with built-in contingencies, the town is about $105,000 short of what it needs to fully fund the contract, according to deputy town administrator Melissa Goff.

The whole process is also about to restart. The contract settled by the arbitrator ends on June 30, 2023, so the two sides will almost immediately have to begin negotiating their next agreement.