LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Vowing he would not let the cost of a tank of gas get in the way of public safety, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray signed an executive order that will temporarily allow police officers to drive their cruisers for personal use at no cost to the officers.
The mayor’s action comes with a wave of summer violence. Recent shootings are sparking criticism that changes made two years ago to limit the use of cruisers for personal use, has decreased police visibility.
"When I said I was dedicating all available resources to fighting violence, I meant it, and that includes making sure we maximize police presence, across the city," Gray said. "The public doesn't appreciate the stand the police union has taken especially now, when violence has intensified. I'm not going to play games with public safety. I'm getting the cruisers on the streets."
Debate over take home cruisers has been an ongoing battle with the police union.
The city has been negotiating with the union for six months to allow officers to drive their cruisers on personal errands within Fayette County. The benefit was suspended in a contract the city signed in 2012 with the union.
“It is unfortunate that the Mayor’s Office continues the cycle of the blame game. The Fraternal Order of Police has always been more about the community, and the officers it represents than politics,” said Jason Rothermund, President of FOP Bluegrass Lodge #4. “The FOP brought the issue of the home fleet back to the Mayor because we believed in the importance of it to our community. This benefit was being negotiated due to it being covered under our current collective bargaining agreement. Both the city and the FOP must agree to the terms of any change in benefits covered under the contract. Such benefits are not subject to ‘Executive Orders,’ which is why this item was being negotiated over the last six months. The Mayor does not possess the authority to unilaterally alter the contract. The FOP has yet to be presented with any documentation concerning the terms of this order, but are more than willing to consider any proposed changes to the contract in the interest of public safety.”
On Friday night, city leaders responded to the FOP's claims.
"Today’s executive order is legally appropriate and officers now have the option to drive their police vehicles while off duty." said Janet Graham, Commissioner of Law.
A spokesperson for the mayor also said Mayor Gray and Police Chief Ronnie Bastin are encouraging officers to utilize the personal use policy, beginning immediately.
Earlier this month, union leadership agreed to a $50 monthly charge for officers who want the benefit, pending a vote by union members. That vote, scheduled this week, was suspended by union leaders on Wednesday.
"My responsibility as mayor is to first do all we can to ensure public safety and to be fair and responsible to our tax payers," noted Mayor Gray during a Friday afternoon press conference.
The FOP did release a statement late Friday afternoon, saying union leaders do agree with putting cruisers back on the street, but it must be done in the legal way. They say both the FOP and the city must agree to alter terms.