More than a month after the Penn Police Department took out a public advertisement calling for the University to “compensate their police department fairly," Penn Police officers are still working without a contract.
The contract between Penn Police and the University expired on July 31 and has yet to be renewed because representatives from the Penn Police Association and the Division of Public Safety have not been able to agree on the terms of the contract.
“Morale is horrible right now; [the officers] feel unappreciated,” PPA President Eric Rohrback said. “[DPS Vice President] Maureen Rush just did an article last week or the week before on how great of a department we are. We are the largest private police department; we are larger than Princeton [University], we are larger than Yale [University], but we are the lowest paid. She didn’t mention that in her article.”
According to data provided by the Penn Police, Penn officers have a starting salary of less than $52,000 and maximum annual salary of less than $65,000, both of which are lower than those of officers at Princeton, Yale, Stanford University, Rutgers University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University.
A Penn Police officer with 14 years of experience agreed with Rohrback, adding that some officers feel that DPS representatives have not been transparent in their negotiations with PPA.
Rohrback said the issues standing in the way of a contract are the salaries and pensions of the officers, which has traditionally been an area of disagreement between the two organizations. More recently, officers' access to data from body cameras has also become an important point of contention, he said.
In 2015, after the Philadelphia Police department launched a pilot program for officers to wear body cameras while on duty, Penn students called on DPS to implement the same policy for Penn Police officers.
Now, Rohrback said the PPA wants Penn to allow officers to review body camera videos before testifying for a court case or receiving disciplinary action so that they can confirm that what was shown in the cameras is entirely accurate.
DPS gave PPA a "final offer" for a contract in early October, but members of the PPA rejected it with a vote of 59 to 4, Rohrback said.
“It was 9 percent [base-salary raise] across three years, and that still doesn’t take us where we want,” he said.
He added that while going on strike is an option, he does not think that the negotiations warrant such a reaction at this point.
This is not the first time Penn Police has disagreed with DPS over the terms of their contract. When the previous contract was signed in 2014, the two parties also went through lengthy discussions to settle conditions surrounding officers' salaries and pensions. To wrap up those negotiations, PPA agreed to a three percent base salary increase and a postponement of pension discussions until this year, Rohrback said.
"We will continue to negotiate in good faith at the bargaining table," Rush said in an email, adding that DPS had recently submitted another proposal to the PPA for review.
In September, the PPA submitted an advertisement to The Daily Pennsylvanian to publicize their frustrations with the negotiating process and call on students to advocate for their interests. The ad encouraged students to ask the University to "compensate their police department fairly."
Despite the ongoing dispute between the PPA and its employer, Penn, Rush asserts that the security and safety of students on campus has not been compromised.
"Through all of this, we successfully moved in the 2,457 members of the Class of 2021, safely hosted several high-profile events, and continued the regular patrol and security response to all within our Penn Patrol Zone," Rush's email read. "We appreciate that all the women and men of Public Safety continue to demonstrate their dedication to the safety and security of the Penn and West Philadelphia communities."