DPOA History

A Brief History of the D.P.O.A. 

The unity enjoyed by today’s membership in the Detroit Police Officers association had humble beginnings that date as far back as 1865.

It was in 1865 that the Police Benevolent Association was formed. Available to all police officers for dues of $1 per month, it provided protection from civil responsibility. (Almost as if they knew where this litigation situation was headed) The following year, the Detroit Police Relief Society was founded and also collected dues of $1 per month. The society provided death benefits of $250 and originally covered sickness after the third day, with an annual limit of $90. he Detroit Police Relief Society grew to provide a $1000 death benefit, and existed until approximately the year 2000. Membership interest had eroded and the assets were disbursed to remaining members.

By 1918, Detroit Police Officers were paid $800 per year, and enjoyed one leave day every 12th day.

In 1915, Detroit officials placed a ban on officers joining the Fraternal Order of Police even though it was not a labor union per se, but more of a social entity. After World War I, the principle that police should not strike was established in Washington, DC. In 1919 Congress passed a wage increase for police that forbid union organization which did not specifically exclude the right to strike.

In 1935, a notable stride was achieved with the granting of the right to organize and negotiate that came with the National Labor Relations Act.

In 1938 Patrolman Howard Heine began organizing secret meetings to create an organization of Detroit Policemen in conjunction with the F.O.P. When the department caught wind of this, he was of course suspended. He fought their attempts stating that he wanted an Association and not a union which was prohibited by general orders.

In 1941, the average pay for a patrolman was $2,640 per year, and from that you were required to purchase your own uniforms.

In 1943, a charter was granted by the State of Michigan for the formation of Detroit F.O.P. Lodge 115, of which Heine was elected president. They had over 70 members in a matter of a day. The commissioner was of course upset, and despite the immediate dismissals, the membership numbers continued to flourish, further enraging the commissioner and superintendent. The equivalent of today’s Internal Affairs reported on who was attending meetings and dismissals continued.

A major breakthrough came on April 12, 1944 when newly appointed Commissioner John Ballinger granted permission to form what is now the DETROIT POLICE OFFICERS ASSOCIATION. The first official meeting was held 12 days later where Charles Neilan was appointed to act as president. By-Laws were discussed and in addition it was decided that the Women’s Division should be included in the new association. By the time the general meeting was held in October of 1944, the DPOA included a membership of 2800 plus.

Also in 1944 the first DPOA newsletter was published, and the name overwhelmingly approved from many submissions was “TUEBOR”; the name that stands to this day and translates to mean “I Will Protect”.

The members got their first hospitalization plan in 1947, and won a five day work week in 1948. Average was pay was $3300 per year and members were still buying their own uniforms. Wages finally soared past the $4000 per year mark in 1951. Back in those days, Patrolmen were given STIFF sentences at trial boards for moonlighting, and just as today, the DPOA argued that if given a decent wage, outside employment would not be necessary. If you received a 20 day suspension that meant you had to work 20 leave days at no compensation, unlike today where you would go home for 20 days, or perhaps attach it to a furlough.

The DPOA was instrumental in the formation of the first truly national police organization, the National Conference of Police Organizations as it became more and more apparent that we required a collective voice in Washington. 1953 brought victory in the form of parking privileges at headquarters and the courts and also the first longevity payments.

Union election procedures were standardized in 1954. The constant battle with city hall over wages wore on in the following years, and just as it is today, the DPOA constantly fought to keep our pension system intact.

The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics was established at the national level in 1957 and made a part of our DPOA Constitution. Then Commissioner Piggins was impressed with it to the point that he adopted it into the Detroit Police Manual. 1957 also brought the DPOA a victory in that 8 holidays became city ordinance. This same year brought the establishment of the $2 per active member cooperative death benefit that we still participate in today when a brother or sister officer passes away.

By 1960, patrolman’s top pay was $6,042 per year. The DPOA was fighting to get the starting pay to $6000 with a top pay of $8000 after nine years of step increases.

In November of 1963, the DPO Wives Association was formed.

The DPOA received the first city hospitalization contributions in 1964. Also that year a bill was passed to allow police officers to collect worker’s compensation for job related injuries. 1964 also brought pension IMPROVEMENTS that allowed for what we know as the 40 & 8 pension, survivor’s benefits, ownership in the annuity funds we have today, and non-duty disabilities.

Association dues were 75 cents per pay in early 1966, and rose to 2.50 by the end of that year. During 1966, Mayor Jerome P. Cavanaugh granted a $1000 raise, and members were allowed tuition reimbursement for courses completed at Wayne University. House Bill 3354 outlining compulsory binding arbitration came into being also during this noteworthy year.

Although not officially endorsed by the Association, a ticket slowdown in 1967 severely ruffled the feathers of city administrators as it was estimated to have cost the city some $15,000 daily in lost fines and revenue from the city operated Traffic Court. The city retaliated by transferring approximately 30 officers from Motor Traffic and the Accident Prevention Bureau to beat assignments. Before the conflict was over some 61 officers were suspended. One day in mid-June, 323 sick calls were received upon which the department cancelled all leave days went to 12 hour shifts. Within 5 days, and after 193 officers were suspended, we found both sides finally at the bargaining table. After panel negotiations the pay for patrolmen was $10,000. The 1967 riots followed shortly thereafter. Despite their differences, members went to bat for the city and went above and beyond the call during the crisis, which included providing protection for firemen, who were also under attack during the unrest.

The following year the DPOA was instrumental in the proposal of over 20 bills in the state legislature. The DPOA also fought hard against the lowering of recruiting standards proposed by the city. By the end of the year, the DPOA members were the 3rd highest paid in the country trailing Chicago at $11,000 and Los Angeles at $11,300.

In 1969, the POAM was formed with 29 member associations. Our president and vice president were elected president and secretary respectively. Act 312 was passed which provided for the compulsory binding arbitration which governs our contract negotiations today. Ironically, act 312 was spearheaded then state lawmaker Coleman A. Young who later became our mayor and saw that his legislation had come back to haunt him. It has its downsides, but without Act 312 we would have great difficulties in today’s relationship with management.

Maximum pay in 1970 rose to $12,000 and overtime at the rate of 1½ was paid over 40 hours. Association dues were now $14 per month.

In 1971 a bill was passed that mandated that police officers receive 240 hours of training, which was a step toward standardization, however, it set the requirements far below what recruits in Detroit were already receiving. Another bill was passed which required police/ambulance drivers to be certified. Each precinct had a certain number of scout cars which were station wagons and were equipped with stretchers to handle medical emergencies. A study was done garding the feasibility of licensing officers to continue, and it was quickly decided that this responsibility would now rest with the fire department. Hence, EMS was conceived. Congressman John Dingell introduced a bill that made it a federal crime to kill on duty policemen or firemen. A 1971 grievance was filed concerning the mandatory wearing of name tags which was lost at arbitration in favor of then Commissioner John Nichols, who had risen through the ranks. Commissioner Nichols had instituted demands felt to be outrageous, such as 1 man scout cars, holsters with flaps, and mandatory lie detector tests for policemen accused of misconduct to name a few.

The DPOA responded in 1972 by doubling its dues temporarily to launch a public information campaign against Nichols. The DPOA got vast media attention, and placed 72 billboards around town that carried the slogan “Walk in our shoes just once”. The department still had double standards. Women were paid 20 percent less than males, and needed a 2 year college degree to be appointed. There were also separate promotional lists. Civil Rights and Michigan Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints were filed over these issues.

By 1973 the department had 5,600 officers, with a salary range of $11,200 to $12,750. Although the DPOA endorsed Nichols for mayor, Senator Coleman Young was elected and Phillip Tannian was appointed to the post that would soon have him become the last commissioner and the first chief of police. Following his appointment, more arbitration cases were filed by the end of 1974 than had been filed in the previous 4 years combined. A rally was staged in front of city hall with approximately 400 members in attendance. The rally received vast news coverage.

Although this only brings us up to the basic condition and achievements of the union 30 years ago, it is this foundation laid by these officers of yesterday that led to the many grievance awards, wage increases and working condition improvements that we enjoy today. Since then, the association continues to respond to the constant actions that threaten all that the DPOA has fought long and hard for during the past 60 years since its inception. This fight is not carried on by merely our 4 Elected Officers, the Executive Board, the Grievance Committee, nor the Stewards comprising our Board of Directors, but by ALL MEMBERS, as a WHOLE continuing to ensure that at the very least, we ‘get what we bargained for.

(Gathered & Arranged by Police Officer Tom Harvey ’04 Executive Board Member)