Lawton Police Officers' Union to challenge ruling

Lawton_The Lawton Police Officers' Union says that not only is a recent arbitration ruling unfair to its members, it's also invalid.  On Wednesday, the union asked the City of Lawton for a 4.5% cost of living adjustment on the upcoming one-year contract, but a judge sided with the city and denied the request.  The union says it will fight the ruling based on a technicality because it claims the arbitration judge failed to issue his ruling by a set deadline.  They say that while the award was issued on paper, the judge failed to sign off on it in time.

In early July, the Lawton Police Officers' Union began bracing for defeat - what would be the first loss of an arbitration process to the city.  They say they waited on the ruling to arrive, but say it never came.  "The arbitrator only had until the 7th of July to deliver a signed award issuing that award," says union representative Tommy Harrell.  "It was not received.  He did not deliver it until the 10th of July, so that award was out of time by statute."

According to Harrell, the award is invalid - but that isn't the union's only problem with the ruling.  "The City of Lawton knows we're having a problem recruiting policemen right now," he says.  Harrell says it's a matter of economics - for both rookies and veterans.  "People can drive 68 miles north, and they can start $8,000 a year more, or they can drive 50 miles south and start at $10,000 a year more," he says.  "It comes down to our place in the market, we're not competitive."

The union says the proof of the Lawton Police Department's spot in the market is in the number of people applying to the force.  "[This year] there were 39 applicants that showed up to take the physical agility test," he says.  Ten years ago there were 300."  Although Harrell admits that Lawton isn't the only agency having recruiting trouble due to pay scale, he says the cities compared to Lawton in the arbitration hearing are far from comparable.  "The City of Lawton knows that Altus, Chickasha, Duncan, and Ardmore are not comparable to the City of Lawton in size and economic status," he says.  "But those are the four cities they chose to compare us to."

If each of the populations of the cities that were compared to Lawton were totaled, Harrell says it still would not equal Lawton's population.  A new officer in Lawton can expect to earn a salary of about $28,000 annually.  The union says it will ask for a list of new arbitration judges to hear the case.  Count on 7News to keep you posted on the developments.