There's nothing quite like a high-profile contract dispute to showcase the bizarre inefficiencies that prevail in much of the unionized public sector.
Against union opposition, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is trying to reform his city's police department through a program that he calls "Civilianization." This would mean giving city government the right to "use civilians in positions currently held by police officers (i.e. including payroll, mechanic, and janitorial functions)."
As is the case elsewhere, Detroit provides enhanced pension benefits to public safety personnel out of consideration for the extraordinary strains involved in their job. Detroit police officers need to work 10 fewer years than most general government employees to be eligible for a pension. Their pension formula is 2.5% times each year of service times average final compensation, as opposed to the 1.5-2.2% to which general government employees are entitled.
But, according to Stateline, some Detroit police officers spend their days performing ordinary, administrative tasks such as fleet-maintenance, mopping floors, and "answering the phones and getting coffee for [the] boss."
Hence Bing's intention to restructure the police department to ensure that those trained and compensated to fight crime are, in fact, fighting crime. The need to maximize resources is a serious concern in a near-bankrupt city that experienced 344 murders in 2011, a tally less than only Chicago's (430) and New York's (515).
On a less-serious note, Detroit's work rules still can't rival the absurdity of the Philadelphia Police Department's in the early 90s: "[T]he police department couldn't hire sketch artists but instead under union rules had to give police officers art lessons (Buzz Bissinger, A Prayer for the City, p. 36)."