PLEASANT HILL -- The Pleasant Hill police union has put a lot of money behind Concord police officer Ken Carlson's bid for a City Council seat.
The Pleasant Hill Police Officers' Association's political action committee has spent $8,975 to support Carlson, according to campaign finance reports covering the period from July to Oct. 30. In addition to a $500 cash donation, the union paid for postcards, ads, signs and a mailer promoting Carlson, records show.
The police union also donated $500 to Matt Rinn, president of the Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce. Eight candidates are running for three Pleasant Hill council seats.
The union spent $1,163 on a four-page brochure promoting Carlson and Rinn, according to its Oct. 20 finance report. The mailer highlights crime statistics from the past two years and crime prevention tips. Although it cites 401 residential burglaries over those two years, that's actually the combined number of residential and commercial burglaries, according to crime data on the city's website. There were 280 residential burglaries reported in 2010 and 2011.
"We're backing Ken for the reasons we have in our mailers. We're concerned about crime. Ken's a police officer, he shares our same concerns," said Officer Todt Clark, president of the union that represents Pleasant Hill police officers and dispatchers.
Carlson, a 23-year veteran of the Concord police force, said the union's financial backing is key. He
"It's huge, the support they've given me. I don't know that I'd be able to do this without their support," he said of the Pleasant Hill police union. "I just couldn't keep up with the other candidates."
The union recently went through a bruising contract battle. In fall 2011, after months of talks, the council imposed a one-year contract on police officers and dispatchers that cut retirement and medical benefits. Negotiations resumed in February, and in July the two sides agreed on a four-year deal that includes raises and higher employee contributions toward pensions and health care premiums. Clark believes those changes will hamper the department's ability to retain and recruit veteran officers.
By the end of the year, the department will be down at least five sworn positions -- two officers left for agencies offering better pay and benefits, one decided to become a teacher, one retired and another is set to retire in December, according to Clark. A recent hiring process drew 60 applicants and resulted in just one hire, who is in the academy, he said.
While most elements of the contract are set for the next four years, it includes a provision to reconsider the health insurance plans the city offers. Carlson's willingness to consider joining the CalPERS health plans further endeared him to the union members, who believe those plans would save them and the city money. As a Concord employee, Carlson belongs to a CalPERS health plan.
"If that's an opener and we can save money and provide better choices to our city staff, then I want to take a look at that," he said.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.