A police officer in St. Paul earns less than officers in Eden Prairie, Bloomington and Eagan and the majority of other metro area departments, according to the St. Paul Police Federation.
However, the city says the union's numbers are flawed and that the department has been well funded and has never had more officers.
At a standstill in negotiations for a new contract, which expired 10 months ago, the St. Paul Police Federation has taken its pitch to the public in new television and social media campaigns in which it urges residents to contact the mayor's office because "St. Paul's Finest deserve better."
The union says city police rank 22nd out of 27 metro departments in average annual salary based on 30-year career comparisons. A St. Paul police officer, for example, makes $9,300 less annually than an Eden Prairie officer, who is paid the most in the metro, the union said.
The lower pay puts St. Paul, which has more than 600 sworn officers, at a competitive disadvantage to retain and recruit officers, said Dave Titus, the union president.
"The problem is that we're not going to be able to get all of the [highly] qualified, best of the best. … We're going to have a lot of retirements. Everybody is going to be vying and trying to recruit the best candidates all around the state not just in St. Paul. That's why this is important," Titus said.
In a commercial featuring officer Dan King, who was selected as the department's Officer of the Year and given the Medal of Valor along with his partner Brian Wanschura for their handling of a shootout with a suspect, King's wife said, "Policemen are heroes, so when I hear Mayor [Chris] Coleman pays his officers less than almost every department in the metro area, it's just wrong."
But the mayor's office said that the department is in the top five jurisdictions in the metro area when total compensation is taken into account.
"Public safety has consistently been my top priority since I took office," Coleman said in a statement. "The work of our law enforcement agencies not only keeps our residents and visitors safe, but helps cultivate a vibrant community. I wholeheartedly believe in the work they do, and have consistently invested in those departments."
The city has offered the police union a 5.5 increase over a three-year contract, which is equal to what has been accepted by all the other settled unions in St. Paul including the Firefighters Local 21 union. The union says it would need a 10 percent increase to catch up with Minneapolis, which is ranked 11th.
"I strongly believe in equity and parity among our city workers," Coleman said, in his statement. "Going beyond that for just one division of our city workers would not only be unfair to other city workers, but would also stretch taxpayer dollars well beyond our budget."
Since Coleman took office in 2006, city spending for the Police Department has increased almost 28 percent, said Joe Campbell, the mayor's spokesman. Coleman added about 40 officers to the force, Campbell said.
"There have never been more police officers on the streets. … To say that we don't prioritize public safety is ludicrous," Campbell said.
The union says that the city's total compensation numbers are inaccurate and misleading. For one, the union says the numbers are based on the health insurance package for St. Paul employees and the amount of money the city would pay for an employee who elected family coverage despite the fact that less than half of St. Paul employees choose family coverage. Even if the numbers were accurate, it still would put St. Paul police officers ranked 18 out of 27 metro departments in terms of pay, the union says.
The city and the union have met about 10 times to discuss the contract. The next step in the negotiations could be arbitration.