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Police take contract fight to the people
Selectmen say pay compares well with others
By Alison O'Leary Murray, Globe Correspondent | November 11, 2004

Police in the quiet and wealthy town of Dover are engaged in an unusually open dispute with town officials over their contract.

The Dover Police Association, frustrated with a lack of progress in contract talks, recently took its case to the public, speaking to reporters about some details of the dispute. Selectmen in the town, where internal disagreements tend to be kept private, defended themselves in a public statement.

Town officials say Dover police receive pay similar to what officers receive in other towns. The police have a different view.

''I don't know why they're saying we're appropriately compensated," said Officer Eamon D. Geoghegan, union president. ''We're thousands of dollars less. It's ironic that Dover is one of the wealthiest communities, but we find ourselves at the bottom of the wage scale."

Contract talks began last February and almost ended in April, when police representatives accepted the town's compensation package. But the larger union membership -- which totals 15 officers -- rejected ratification, and the contract expired June 30. Both sides are currently seeking an appointment with a representative of the state Joint Labor Management Committee to see whether they can compromise before the dispute goes to arbitration.

''I don't think we're as far apart as the officers think we are," said Police Chief Joseph Griffin, who added that a state labor official could ''provide a little reality" by applying knowledge of area median wages to the situation. It is the second time in his 10-year tenure that a contract has required state labor intervention to resolve, but none has gone the next step, to arbitration.

Both sides did comparisons of police wages in similar towns. Selectmen say they've offered a compensation package of wages and benefits that puts Dover squarely in the middle of comparable towns, but Geoghegan argues that the union settled for no raises in the past and is still below the average wage for comparable towns. Neither side released their wage comparison data.

Geoghegan argued that residents support higher pay for his union, citing last spring's Town Meeting blue book, in which the Warrant Committee described the need for a property tax override as ensuring ''the quality of services in which our citizens take great pride and which are the envy of many of our neighbors."

Selectmen chairwoman Kathleen Weld acknowledges that Dover's police compensation was below average not long ago, but she says the town has caught up by carefully watching what other communities pay their officers.

''This last contract brought them much closer, to within a couple hundred dollars of median," she said. ''We believe we have been fair."

According to Griffin, the union accepted a contract without wage increases in the past to get the education stipends allowed under the statewide Quinn Bill. Dover officers make an average of about $45,000 a year, he said.

Going public with the dispute was a last resort, said Geoghegan, noting that Dover officers must be as well-trained and ready for any sort of confrontation as officers in larger towns, despite Dover's bucolic image. He cited a recent incident in which two officers responded to a traffic accident and ended up subduing a resident who was armed with a hatchet and resisting arrest.

''There is a perception of Dover as a bedroom community, but the number of incidents is growing every year," he said.

Weld and Griffin said they had received no telephone calls from residents lobbying for the union's position, but some residents who were approached at the town's transfer station on a rainy Saturday morning generally agreed with Geoghegan and the union.

''I would support a 5 percent increase for them," said resident Tom Windle. ''They probably deserve it and the town has enough money."

Others weren't so sympathetic.

''This is not a high-crime area," said resident Jamie Graham. ''They probably apply very sensitive criteria to the way they handle situations here, but I don't know if they deserve a raise. I haven't had a raise in four years. Times are tough all over."

Alison O'Leary Murray may be reached at [email protected].
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