Fight over police uniforms could go to court; officers' union suing

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck
By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- The union that represents more than 2,500 police officers says it is going to file suit against the Phoenix Police Department to recoup costs for uniforms that are now banned.

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) filed a notice of claim, a required step before a lawsuit can be launched, saying officers' compensation was essentially cut because they spent money on uniforms they can no longer wear. Officers are giving a clothing allowance as part of their compensation. This year, that allowance was $1,150.

According to an Arizona newspaper, PLEA's claim asks for nearly $3 million -- $1,150 per officer to cover the now worthless Class D uniforms -- and also requested that the banned uniforms be reinstated.

Earlier this year, Police Chief Daniel Garcia handed down a mandate ordering officers to wear a more formal Class C uniform consisting of a dark blue polyester-blend button-down shirt and dress pants.

For the past 15 years, officers have allowed to wear Class D uniforms -- black cotton polo-style shirts and cargo pants. The choice was theirs.

Garcia, however, said having two different looks can be confusing to the public. He also said the casual uniform option makes it easier for criminals to impersonate officers.

Ken Crane, vice president of PLEA, has taken issue with that, saying any uniform can be faked, even the traditional blue one Garcia wants all officers to wear.

A spokesman for the city said the claim filed by PLEA has been received, but offered nothing more.

An arbitrator was going to take up PLEA's grievance complaint, but that complaint was dropped because the decision, while final, would not be binding, according to union president Joe Clure.

Clure said he believes the union and the Phoenix Police Department will ultimately be able to negotiate some kind of settlement.