They’ve reached the pinnacle of their profession, elite senior police commanders who oversee bureaus and hundreds of cops each. Now, they’re pondering whether to shed their titles and take demotions — to make more money.
At least six Miami-Dade County majors are quietly going through back channels, looking into dropping their rank to captain. The lower rank provides labor-union safeguards that could mean more total compensation.
The majors say they took the brunt of repeated salary freezes and benefit cuts as county administrators struggled to balance cash-strapped budgets in recent years.
The incentives of moving down the ranks would allow them to receive “longevity” pay that can be as much as $1,500 a year. They would no longer have to pay $100 a month for their police vehicles. They would be able to cash in sick time every year, allowing them to invest the money and pay less in taxes after retiring.
As captains, they also would no longer have to contribute 5 percent of their base pay toward group healthcare costs — a concession recently eliminated for the rank-and-file but not for management posts not protected by unions.
Though majors have more responsibility than captains, overseeing entire bureaus as opposed to smaller units, their base salary pay scale is similar. The county’s human resources website shows the pay range for majors runs from $87,265 to $137,195 a year, while captains are paid between $84,384 and $121,753.
Police Director J.D. Patterson said that no senior command staff member has reached out to him — yet — or made a formal request for a demotion. But he said he is aware of grumblings among his staff, and called it “a quandary for the people and the agency.”
“I do think informally people are looking at it, and they should,” Patterson said. “People have to assess their situations.”
None of the majors considering asking for a demotion has filed paperwork or made an official request, and all refrained from talking publicly about the issue because it might upset administrators or the staffers working under them.
But they privately shared their frustration with rules that apply only to management. One person familiar with the situation said that all exempt employees get “screwed,” and that there are “no incentives” to remain a major.
Another inequity: After obtaining an additional degree from a university, captains are rewarded with 10 percent raises. If that officer is promoted to major, the raise disappears. For that reason, some captains don’t want to be moved up to the next level.
It is not uncommon during tight budget times for the county mayor, the county’s top administrator, to place the heaviest burden of cuts on high-ranking senior administrators.
This year, for instance, after blowback from the unions and a vote by commissioners, county union employees no longer have to contribute 5 percent of their pay toward group healthcare costs.
Still, county Mayor Carlos Gimenez said nonunion employees would continue to make the contribution. It affects about 1,800 of the county’s more than 25,000 employees who do not belong to a union, including the police command staff.
Deputy Mayor Chip Iglesias, who oversees the police department, declined to comment on the issue, calling it speculative. He said wage differences between bargaining units and the executive command staff are always a concern.
“It’s a topic of discussion every day at every police station and every firehouse in the country,” Iglesias said.
Gimenez echoed Iglesias, adding: “Sometimes it makes financial sense for those people to go back. That’s a problem not only here, but around the country.”
They see it as an age-old argument between union and nonunion members, but one that hasn’t bubbled up in Miami-Dade for the past five years.
One former police major who requested and received a demotion is Glenn Stolzenberg, the former head of the police department’s Professional Compliance Bureau, or internal affairs. Stolzenberg was “reclassified” to the rank of captain in June 2013.
In a brief memo to Patterson, Stolzenberg said he made the change for personal reasons. “I assure you that my dedication and commitment to the department and my new assignment will not be impeded at all,” he wrote.
Stolzenberg declined to be interviewed, but Patterson acknowledged that Stolzenberg made the change mainly for “fiscal” reasons.
John Rivera, president of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, said Stolzenberg requested the demotion to earn more money, a direct result of union protections. He said he knows of at least six majors contemplating demotions.
“I know of a husband and a wife, where the wife is a lieutenant, and she makes more money, if you count it by the hour, than her husband, a major,” Rivera said.
Patterson noted that this is not the first time senior command staff has complained of pay inequity. The last time it was made public, though, came with a high political cost.
In 2009, after warning that the county was in the worst economic shape since the Great Depression, former police director and then-Mayor Carlos Alvarez awarded 5 percent raises to 36 police commanders with no union representation.
He called it a matter of fairness and noted that when he was a major, two captains working under him made more money, and that “it didn’t feel very good.” The majors had petitioned Alvarez directly.
The backlash was swift. The public was furious. The mayor’s approval numbers dropped precipitously. The discontent — aided by Alvarez’s proposal to eliminate county jobs and cut pay to other county workers — led voters to deliver the most decisive recall of a mayor in U.S. history.
Still, Rivera — whose job is to represent the county’s union workers and who cannot be recalled through a public vote — says pay inequity must be dealt with.
“These majors are mandated to go to all kinds of community meetings, at all hours,” he said. “Their lives are turned upside-down, and there is no compensation for it.”
Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.