'A very demanding job.' Civilian DPD employees say promised retention bonus never came

Posted at 6:30 AM, May 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-11 13:45:50-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Civilian employees of the Detroit Police Department say they were promised a retention bonus that never came. The money only went out to sworn officers, even though a memo said they would get it as well, they say.

Members of DPD's Crime Scene Services Department, who are represented by the Service Employee International Union (SIEU 517 M), say they got a teletype in December promising a $2,000 check.

"I know I was excited to have someone recognize our efforts," said Margaret Lovallo, an evidence technician for DPD.

There are a told of 596 civilians on the force, but they are budgeted for 763. The city says that also includes administrative staff.

Evidence technicians often spend the most time at some of Detroit's worst crime scenes. Lovallo and her colleague, Stephanie Weier, say their unit has 20 members.

"We have to stand over people, take photos of them, it's graphic, and a very demanding job not only physically, but emotionally," Weier, an evidence technician, said.

On Dec. 17, the council reached a memorandum of understanding and approved the measure.

That same day, DPD said they spoke too soon. Lovallo and her colleague, Weier got this memo from their supervisors.

"The Department has since been notified by the City that the MOU constituted an agreement between the City and the unions. Consequently, the agreement had to be approved by City Council, which is currently in recess. We are deeply saddened over the premature release of this information, and we can only imagine how devastating this news may be to certain members. Please know that we support you and are working tirelessly with City leadership to ensure this matter is referred to City Council promptly in January. We are committed to keeping the unions and the membership informed on our progress and will provide periodic updates until this matter is fully resolved."

Message on bonuses from Dec. 17 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

"The thought was, let's try and propose a bonus of some type to the civilian unions, but we have not sat down and had that discussion," said Hakim Berry, Chief Operating Officer for the City of Detroit.

Berry says police unions were prioritized because they had a high turnover rate.

Related: City of Detroit to pay $2K to police officers, hoping to keep them from leaving DPD

DPD unveils retention plan

In 2021, DPD lost 103 officers to other departments. This year, the police department has already lost 19.

Berry says they paid for the $5 million in bonuses through federal aid and their general fund.

"We are still recovering from bankruptcy we have limited funds," said Berry, "I mean if we could bring a truckload of money and throw it at everybody we would."

Berry acknowledges there are retention issues in civilian departments as well. He says he reached an agreement with one unit that represents 911 operators. The city agreed to give employees a signing bonus.
ARPA Letter to City of Detroit by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

"We have a lot of groups that have competitive pay issues. Some have retention issues, some have attendance issues and through the collective bargaining process, we have tried to eliminate those issues as best we can," said Berry.

After the bonus checks were announced, the Detroit Fire Fighter's Association also expressed disappointment. They told 7 Action news it was, "a slap in the face."

"When things are publicized with one unit the other unit wants it," said Berry. "that part I am not surprised about and it's outside the police department too, so I've heard it in other departments as well."

Lovallo says they may not have a turnover rate of 47%, but her department does struggle with retaining employees.

"Because of our manpower issues, there are consistently overtime shifts and we're constantly training new people," said Lovallo.

"I was pregnant and still going to crime scenes pretty much up until my due date," she added.

SIEU 517M's executive director, Jeremy Tripp, is hoping to get the matter on the city council agenda. He sent a letter to council president Mary Sheffield back in April.

Lovallo and Weier's union rep also sent emails to Detroit Police Chief James White and Berry requesting a meeting.

"Once we receive that request, we can talk about the particular issues that we have within that bargaining, and it may not be retention," said Berry.

Weire says they deserve to feel valued.

"Our minds are kind of set on the bonus because we were initially promised it in the first place, so I think that's fair, but again we'd have to negotiate and talk that over with everybody," said Weier.