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Cops at the Crossroads

BRASS TACKS

By Francis J. Connolly

WHEN WILLIAM A. LEE took over as acting chief of University police yesterday, replacing David L. Gorski, he stepped into the shoes of a man who spent most of his time at Harvard getting the hot-foot. For Lee, who is a labor relations specialist, the extra heat may not make much of a difference; trained to deal with disgruntled employees and union leaders, he should be able to take the flak that last month convinced the publicity-shy Gorski to pack his bags. But no matter who sits in the chief's office in Grays Hall, the Harvard police are going to keep making things hot with their persistent demands for change.

Right now the Harvard Patrolmen's Association is pressing its suit in contract negotiations with the University, and the status of the talks reflects the relations between Harvard and the policemen. Both are rocky. The police have been working without a contract since January 1, and the two sides have spent three months without settling their substantial differences. Gorski's decision to leave delayed the talks for a few weeks, as both sides reassessed their positions in light of the change in administration. But even before Gorski's departure, the talks were proceeding at a snail's pace. The union and the University disagree on two separate fronts, and thus far there has been little or no progress in either area.

The first dispute, not surprisingly, involves money. Though University officials will not discuss their offer to the union, sources close to the negotiations say Harvard proposed a salary hike of about 5 per cent to the union, to correspond with the recent rise in the cost of living. Laurence F. Letteri, president of the Patrolmen's Association, says the union will press for a bigger salary hike, and will also seek to obtain an increase in fringe benefits. The major fringes in question are "night and weekend differentials"--the extra pay that officers earn for working less desirable shifts. These differentials are currently far below the similar benefits that members of the Boston and Cambridge forces enjoy. The union contends that the poor fringes cast the department in a bad light and prevent it from attracting good cops. Henry Wise '18 attorney for the union, says the University is "not interested in longevity--they just want to hold the line without any consideration for the future."

Edward W. Powers, associate general counsel for employee relations, refuses to discuss the economic aspects of the negotiations. But others familiar with the talks are quick to point out that the union's comparison of itself to the local municipal forces is not necessarily accurate. Though Harvard's police are no longer mere security guards, they do not usually face the same dangers as the city police. "You don't get too many armed robberies in Houghton Library," one police official said recently. Harvard administrators also dismiss the union's argument that the reduced fringe benefits will discourage future employment by noting that the union's own rules--which require all new officers to work night shifts and other undesirable hours for several years before attaining seniority--go much further to detract from the force's desirability.

BUT IF THE TWO SIDES are far apart on money, they are even more sharply divided on the issue of organizational change within the department. When Gorski came to Harvard in January, 1975, he immediately started to reshape the police department in his own image--that of a tough new "scientific cop." He instituted a new computer system to analyze crime statistics, sent members of the force to a police academy to bone up on the latest crime-fighting techniques, and hired a number of plainclothes "special agents" to investigate campus crime. At the same time, Gorski began an efficiency drive to complement the new "no-nonsense" image, placing a de facto freeze on new hiring for the force and devoting more of the police budget to "scientific hardware."

The union took to the new changes with all the enthusiasm of a shotgun bridegroom. With fewer officers to handle patrol duties--under Gorski's efficiency drive, the number of uniformed patrolmen has dropped from near 60 down to 46--the police had to handle larger beats, with only one officer in a patrol car instead of two. Letteri would like the department to reduce each officer's shift from eight hours to six and to increase shift overlaps--a move he says would allow the police to offer a more adequate level of protection. The officers downplay their own interests in asking for the change; as one said, "We don't give a shit about this increased workload on us--we're not cry-babies. But how the hell are we going to be able to do a decent job with so few guys?"

The union's motives aren't completely altruistic, though. For along with the reduction in the size of the force naturally came a reduction in the size of the union, and a decrease in its ability to press its salary demands. And while trying to preserve its own position, the union has cast a suspicious eye on Gorski's plainclothes "special agents," who perform the same duties as the patrolmen but are salaried employees not eligible for union membership. Many members fear the University is trying to squeeze out the union by relying on the agents and the "scientific hardware," neither of which carry union cards. Some officers note that despite Gorski's push for efficiency and reduced costs, he increased the size of the police office staff from four to over 20. The police administration says the extra staff is needed to handle the new computer program, which is of course true. But the policemen see the increase as a threat. Computer programmers don't carry union cards, either.

Many of the difficulties arise from a difference in perception more than anything else. Gorski attempted to reduce campus crime, and he saw the new scientific methods as the best way of doing so. To a remarkable extent he was successful, as Harvard's crime rate dropped more than 60 per cent during his tenure. The policemen certainly didn't mind that, but they did not appreciate Gorski's rather brusque way of handling the situation. To a great extent, what they resented most was how he made the changes, rather than what he changed. The problem grew worse because Gorski would not take into account the natural inertia of the police force, interpreting slowness to change as personal opposition. And personal opposition was one hindrance to efficiency that Gorski sought to eliminate. He gained a reputation as "a dangerous man to cross," as one officer put it. Most officers refused to speak to reporters during Gorski's tenure, for fear their remarks might bring down upon them the considerable wrath of the police office. One union negotiator cited "a complete lack of trust in the chief of police" as one of the major stumbling blocks to reaching agreement on a contract. Gorski's organizational changes, he said, had destroyed morale in the force--and the "morale issue" has since become a major factor in the contract talks.

POWERS DOWNPLAYS the morale issue, calling it an "organizational development question" unconnected with the "economic issues" of salary and benefits. But the union won't see it that way, and the talks have repeatedly stalled as the policemen have insisted on a settlement of the "morale question" as a prerequisite for the contract talks. The federal mediator in charge of the negotiations last month adjourned the talks until Harvard and the union agree on a third party to help settle the question. Yet Harvard has yet to propose such a third party, and the disagreements have only mounted.

The change in police administration could get the talks moving again. Certainly, the union's personal distaste for Gorski was one of the most serious blocks to productive negotiations, and the appointment of a labor relations specialist as acting chief could go a long way toward smoothing the feathers that Gorski continually ruffled. But Lee is only an interim boss, and the patrolmen know that. Thus the problem won't end with Gorski's departure.

While Letteri is cautious about the future, willing to wait and see what Lee might be able to contribute toward a settlement, some of the rank-and-file are less optimistic. They are more interested in seeing what Gorski's permanent successor, whom the University will select before next fall, will do about the department's organizational structure. To them, the "morale question" is not something the University can resolve simply by appointing a more pleasant person than Gorski to run the department. They want the assurance that the union will stay secure, and that they will be able to present future demands to a police administration that won't react with another big shake-up. "This morale business--it's really a dollars-and-cents thing," one officer noted. "We just want to make sure about our future around this place," another added. Such views are something the University will have to take into account when it returns to the bargaining table this month.

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