El Paso police association voices concerns from traffic duty at ballpark

EL PASO, Texas - In less than a week, the El Paso Chihuahuas will be playing ball in Southwest University Park Downtown.

That not only means changes for the Downtown community, but also for El Paso police.

With at least 9,000 fans expected for opening day on Monday, April 28, there will be a lot of people and traffic making their way through Downtown.

To handle security and manage the traffic, police and private security will both be on hand opening day and at all Chihuahuas' home games.

Inside the park, off-duty El Paso police officers and private security firms will man the entrances and handle incidents in the park.

Outside the ballpark, El Paso police with have 18-20 on-duty officers directing traffic at the intersections immediately around the stadium. Officials anticipate those officers will be in place for all games this season.

"Because there's several intersections that need to be manned, and you need - even if there's less traffic, manning the intersection requires a certain amount of resources," El Paso Police spokesperson Sgt. Chris Mears said. "And we're not going to put officers in jeopardy to not have the appropriate number of officers to handle that intersection. So even if it was three-quarters of the stadium sold out, we might need the same number of officers for traffic control as if it were to sell out."

Those officers will be coming from all over the city, and not everyone's happy.

The El Paso Police Officers' Association has filed a class action grievance against the City. It said police officers and detectives are being forced to make scheduling changes in order to avoid overtime.

It's a move they say is not allowed under its current agreement with the City.

"The City has made it clear they want to reduce their schedule to avoid paying overtime," said Jim Jopling with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. "And so we filed a grievance based on that."

Schedules are being shifted to make officers available for traffic duty during Chihuahuas' games. 18 to 20 officers will staff the intersections around the ballpark for each home game this season.

The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas filed a grievance last week claiming the shifts are against the collective bargaining agreement between the police association and the city.

The El Paso Police Department said that schedule changes are necessary and that they don't violate the agreement.

"The department believes they're within their management rights to do the scheduling as they have planned," Mears said, "and we're going to continue that, unless an arbitrator were to rule against us."

Jopling, acting as the attorney for the police officer's association, called it a "hidden tax," and argued that there could be serious policing issues cause by the schedule shifts.
"So it might be a patrol officer in your neighborhood, for example," Jopling said. "Or it might be a detective investigating a crime that you're the victim of. That detective won't be investigating that crime for that day, or maybe the next three or four days, because they'll be directing traffic at the ballpark."

The current collective bargaining agreement has been in place with the city since 2008 and is currently being re-negotiated.
A city spokeswoman said that the city is required to address traffic control at all major public events, not just the ballpark, and that overtime is not something they are required to provide under any circumstance.

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