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LIGHT DUTY MAY BE PART OF POLICE CONTRACT

Provisions to allow injured officers to work light-duty jobs pending full recovery are expected to be part of the new contract between the city and its police union.

Talks begin Tuesday between the city and the Hickory Club Police Benevolent Association on a new contract to replace the one that expires Dec. 31.

In hopes of saving money on overtime and workers' compensation, the city wants the contract to include terms allowing officers who are hurt or ill to return to work on less strenuous duty than regular patrols. The current contract does not address that topic.

James F. Gugliuzza, president of the Police Board, said the board has urged Allen D. Miskell, the city's chief labor negotiator, to raise the topic of light duty.

"We have been asking him to negotiate that with the union," Gugliuzza said last week. "We have been told that we don't have to negotiate it. . . . There's nothing that says we can't put the officers on light duty."

Gugliuzza said after a closed-door board session with Police Chief Neil B. Merritt on Wednesday, "We directed the chief to get this in place in as timely a manner as possible."

"I believe they can impose it, but they have to negotiate the impact," said Officer Terry L. Gill, president of the Hickory Club. "The club's stance is, we want it in the contract."

Gill added, "It'll benefit the officers as well as the city, but we have to make sure our concerns are addressed."

He declined to be specific on what those concerns are, but he did indicate they pertain to the types of work light-duty officers could be assigned.

Gill said his understanding of the concept is that light-duty officers would draw their full regular salaries.

"The city would save the cost of overtime and workers' compensation," Gill said.

The overtime would result because the department would be short-handed. The Common Council has not allowed the hiring of temporary police officers to replace those off duty for health reasons.

Gill said light duty has another benefit: "It includes people who are burning up their own sick time. We have some guys who got hurt off the job."

The light-duty issue simmered through the Common Council budget process. It came to a head in late October, when Mayor Thomas C. Sullivan was informed that Officer Brian M. LeBere, who was injured while subduing a suspect on Pine Street Oct. 19, was seen bowling in a local league the following week.

Sullivan promised the audience at the Nov. 6 Council meeting that the matter would be investigated.

Merritt said after Wednesday's Police Board meeting that LeBere, who is still off duty on workers' compensation, "didn't do anything wrong. He checked with his doctor."

He said that LeBere injured his left shoulder in his confrontation with assault suspect Kenneth D. Lewis, but that the officer is right-handed. Merritt said LeBere underwent surgery to repair tendons in his left shoulder.

Merritt said it's expected that LeBere will take four months to return to full duty because he can't fully raise his left arm.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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