All the officers responsible for handling canines at the Mobile Police Department are suing the city for back pay and damages, claiming they were not paid properly for work they did while off duty.
In a lawsuit filed on Thursday, July 21, the three officers, led by Sgt. Patrick McKean, argued that under previous administrations canine handlers within the department were paid an additional hour each workday to take care of the K-9 officers while off duty.
Specifically, McKean worked under this arrangement from 2003 through 2008. McKean then went to serve in Iraq. While he was in Iraq, the lawsuit states, the canine handlers were moved under a different command structure and were no longer paid for the additional hour per day. McKean returned from Iraq in 2009 and began working under this arrangement. He is the leader of the unit and remains in that position now, the lawsuit states.
The officers do get paid an hour of overtime for off days to maintain the dogs, according to the lawsuit, but they still don’t receive any additional pay, despite caring for the canines while at home.
In 2020, McKean wrote an email to Special Operations Commander Capt. William Reed requesting the extra hour of compensation be restored or the three canine handlers receive a pay bump to make up for the extra time spent caring for the animals. McKean wrote the email on behalf of the entire department, which includes the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit in Joshua Evans and William Byrd.
“I’m requesting that canine handlers be considered to receive additional compensation for at-home canine care and for the high risk situations that canine handlers are faced with,” McKean wrote to Reed. “During a regular work week canine handlers are not compensated for any canine care prior to or after their shift.”
This care includes feeding and watering the animals, exercising them as well as cleaning them and checking them for injury, the plaintiffs’ attorney Tom Loper said in a phone interview. Visits to the veterinarian could also be considered off-duty care, if the officers have to make the appointments for after a shift, Loper said.
In the correspondence to Reed, McKean wrote that a 5 percent incentive pay increase would be “reasonable.”
“With a five percent incentive for at home care, canine handlers would no longer receive overtime for weekends and holidays,” he wrote. “Another possibility could be a 2.5 percent incentive for the at-home canine care, and handlers continue with the weekend and holiday overtime.”
In an email to then-Police Chief Lawrence Battiste, Reed sided with McKean on some of the aspects of the pay dispute, including providing handlers with extra incentive pay. Specifically, Reed recommended giving canine handlers a “Hazardous Duty Incentive,” or HCI.
“This incentive would alleviate the need to pay handlers with overtime for canine care,” Reed wrote Battiste. “As well, these officers are utilized in the apprehension of felony suspects that have fled from crime scenes that are on occasions armed and attempting to avoid capture.”
In a table Reed sent to Battiste at the time, he showed that paying the additional 10-percent incentive to the four officers who worked as canine handlers at the time would cost the department about $47,000 per year.
Despite Reed’s recommendation to Battiste the department has not moved forward with the pay adjustments for canine handlers, which has prompted the lawsuit, Loper said.
However, with some in the department acknowledging the need to pay the handlers more, Loper said the issue could possibly be worked out without the court intervening. Right now, the city has 21 days to respond to the action.
Using these emails as evidence, the suit claims the MPD knew about the issue and ignored it.
“Defendant is aware that plaintiffs are performing work (i.e. caring for the dogs) while off-duty, yet defendant willfully refuses to pay plaintiffs for this compensable time,” the suit reads.
“Plaintiffs frequently complained to their commanding officers that they were not being compensated for their time caring for the dogs on duty days. Specifically, on behalf of the entire K-9 Unit, McKean complained to Captain William “Harvey” Reed, Captain Melvin Jones, and Captain James Cunningham. Additionally, Captain Reed notified then- Police Chief Lawrence Battiste as early as June of 2018 with the Plaintiffs’ concerns.”
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Mobile is seeking backpay and damages, saying the city and police department are violating federal law in regard to compensation. The amount of compensation and damages would be determined at trial, according to the suit.
A spokesman for Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office said they would not comment on litigation.
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