Falmouth Police Patrolman Files Suit
By: Brent Runyon
A Falmouth police patrolman has filed a lawsuit against the Town of Falmouth to recoup educational salary incentives cut from the budget earlier this year, plus damages.
Attorney for Robert B. Murray, president of the Falmouth Police Patrolmen’s Federation, filed the lawsuit earlier this month in Barnstable Superior Court “to make him whole from losses suffered from the reduction of payments,” plus attorney’s fees, and “other such relief as may be just and proper,” according to the suit.
Mr. Murray said his name is on the lawsuit, but any judgment would also apply to the other 23 patrolmen who receive benefits through the Quinn Bill.
The Town of Falmouth has paid its half of the educational incentives. What the town has not paid is the state’s half of the incentives, which equals another $6,500 a year for Mr. Murray, a 29-year-veteran of the Falmouth Police Department and the department’s only narcotics detective.
Town Manager Robert L. Whritenour Jr. said there is specific language in the patrolmen’s contract that exempts the town from paying the state’s half, which was drastically reduced in last year’s budget.
“The contract outlines exactly what steps to follow if the state defaults on its share of the Quinn Bill. The town meticulously followed every step,” Mr. Whritenour said.
But the town has paid the state’s share of educational incentives for Falmouth Police Chief Anthony J. Riello and agreed earlier this month to compensate the three Falmouth police captains for the state’s half, as well.
“The captains and the chief deserve it, and we should get it, too,” Mr. Murray said. “Our position is that the town is responsible for getting the money from the state to pay our educational incentives.”
The lawsuit states that the town was to receive more than $186,000 for educational incentive payments for patrolmen, sergeants, captains, and the chief of police. The state only paid $28,000 of that amount, approximately 85 percent less than expected.
When that money did not come, the lawsuit argues, it was the Town of Falmouth’s responsibility to seek it from the state.
Budget concerns trumped incentives
This lawsuit comes after months of building resentment between Falmouth patrolmen and the town government.
This spring, Chief Riello left the state’s share for the incentives in his budget, but Falmouth Town Meeting members voted to cut the line item from the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, on a recommendation by the Falmouth Finance Committee.
Members of the Falmouth Police Department filled the back of the Lawrence School auditorium at Town Meeting, and Mr. Murray said they expected to hear at least a discussion of their benefits.
After the Town Meeting article passed with no debate, the police officers present had a Town Meeting member call for a vote to reconsider the article.
Town Meeting members voted loudly and definitively not to reconsider the article, and never discussed the police educational incentives at the meeting.
“They sent a huge message, and we got it loud and clear,” Mr. Murray said.
He said the department is suffering from staffing shortages, budget cuts, and falling morale.
“We have four frozen patrolman positions. We’ve got a bunch of guys hurt. We’ve got guys in Afghanistan. They’ve cut the detectives’ division from eight guys to two. This is the second busiest department on the Cape. It’s ridiculous.”
He agreed there is language in the town contract that exempts Falmouth from paying the state’s share, but that is not how other departments are handling the situation.
“Other departments are making good on the Quinn Bill; Falmouth is not,” Mr. Murray said.
The lawsuit calls the language in the patrolmen’s contract that excludes the town from paying the state’s half of the educational incentives “invalid and unenforceable.”
Mr. Murray has a master’s degree in criminal justice from Western New England College. He makes $53,000 a year as his base pay. Mr. Murray’s overall salary in 2009 including police details, overtime, and educational incentives exceeded $132,000, more than any other member of the Falmouth Police Department except for Chief Riello, who made $152,000, according to Town Accountant Mary Ellen Alwardt.
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