A month after a rowdy crowd of cops protested at City Hall, drawing criticism from the police chief, officers gathered again at the commission Thursday — where they were greeted at the front entrance by senior commanders dressed in full regalia.
The unusual confrontation of brass vs. rank-and-file was the culmination of a month-long squabble between Fraternal Order of Police union President Javier Ortiz and Police Chief Manuel Orosa over the actions of off-duty officers at a February city hall meeting, when a demonstration turned chaotic and commissioners fled the dais.
Union members that day marched into City Hall chanting and demanding that city leaders restore pay and salary cuts from the past four years. They were loud, they banged on windows, they marched up to the mayor’s office. Some in the audience took pictures, while others, frightened by the rowdiness, took cover.
In the weeks that followed, Orosa banned off-duty police from bringing weapons to City Hall, and threatened to arrest officers whose misbehavior affected public meetings. Ortiz vowed not to cow to threats from the chief, and Thursday delivered another demonstration as promised.
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But this one was eerily quiet. There were no guns, no banging on windows, no chants.
After meeting down the road at Peacock Park before 8 a.m., the union members listened to instructions from Ortiz and union treasurer Daniel Kerr, placed white cotton bands on their arms that said they weren’t carrying weapons, grabbed some signs and marched peacefully down South Bayshore Drive.
When they reached City Hall, the officers filed quietly past Orosa and his command staff and didn’t complain as they were checked out by a metal detector just inside the entrance. Then they took their seats, occupying a large section on the south side of the hall, where they remained for most of the morning.
The only confrontation took place just outside City Hall’s front entrance, before the meeting began and as officers filed into the chamber. There, Ortiz met head-on was Mayor Tomas Regalado, the target of union members, who blame him for their compensation woes.
As Ortiz and Regalado edged closer, eventually face-to-face like boxers in a ring, they were surrounded by a knot of people and television cameras. Ortiz stood his ground. The mayor had an uncomfortable grin.
Ortiz wanted to know why Regalado supported the chief’s call to ban firearms in the chamber.
“It’s the same thing you do when you go to a federal court,” said the mayor.
Responded Ortiz: “But this is City Hall.”
When Ortiz said union members weren’t interested in raising taxes, they just wanted a piece of $70 million or more the city now has in reserves, the mayor said that money was going to be used to secure police pensions. Those pensions have been slashed significantly in the cost-cutting era.
Then the mayor suggested Ortiz sit down and negotiate a new union contract with the administration. The union president said he would. The two didn’t agree on a date.
And then Ortiz and the mayor went inside. And all was quiet again.