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Kris Baumann

Here’s a New Year’s gift for Mayor Vince Gray and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier. After eight years leading the Fraternal Order of Police, union chairman Kris Baumann says he won’t run for re-election to his position later this year.

As union head, Baumann has scrapped with the police brass and two mayoral administrations over everything from the All Hands on Deck initiative to the botched firings of cops. He pushed Freedom of Information Act requests in court fights and became a go-to media quote-meister, weighing in on everything from a private gym for police management to police escorts for the likes of Charlie Sheen.

“In the face of two open hostile mayoral administrations and the biggest economic downturn of our lifetimes, we have not only persevered—-we have grown stronger,” Baumann wrote in an email today to union members.

Baumann will stop running the FOP, which he calls the District’s “most formidable union,” in April. He says he’s comfortable leaving the top job now that the union’s years-long contract fight with the city is heading to arbitration.

Under Baumann, the FOP was a constant problem for the Adrian Fenty administration, and it eventually endorsed Fenty rival Vince Gray in the 2010 mayor’s race. Lately, though, Baumann has pushed back against Gray’s legacy, writing that his former pick is “despised throughout the city.”

“The disappointment residents feel about Gray and his administration is the same disappointment we feel,” Baumann says.

Baumann’s email to the union:

Last Monday, I announced that I would not be seeking re-election as the chairman of the D.C. Police Union. Since that time I have received numerous questions from fellow officers about why I was not running for office, and seeking my thoughts on the direction of the D.C. Police Union and the Metropolitan Police Department. I wanted to take some time to answer some of those questions, but more importantly, to thank you for your support over the past ten years. I have had the privilege of representing you for the past eight years as chairman of the D.C. Police Union, and for two years before that as chief shop steward of the Seventh District. For your support, your kind words, and your loyalty, I thank you. It has been an honor.

Part of responsible leadership is to foster new leaders, and to ensure a succession plan is in place. Right now the D.C. Police Union has a team of truly remarkable leaders that will ensure the continued success of this organization. Delroy Burton, Wendell Cunningham, Mary Bonaccorsy, and most members of the Executive Council are the most competent, professional, and dedicated leadership team that any union could ask for. As long as they are in charge, the D.C. Police Union will remain the most powerful and respected union in the District.

As a result, it is time for me to step away. For those of you who know me, you know that I never planned on being involved with the union. I returned to law enforcement to be a police officer, and working as a patrol officer in the Seventh District was rewarding and one of my favorite times professionally. But for those of you who were not with the Department back in 2003, it is hard to understand that as bad as the conditions and morale are now, it was worse then. Police officials were entirely unaccountable, and the union was able to offer little assistance. After being asked to help some very good police officers who were being targeted by officials for personal reasons, I could not in good conscience stand by while the careers of honest police officers were destroyed by unethical officials, nor could I stand by, as a police officer, while corruption and malfeasance went unaddressed throughout this Department and the District government. As a result, I became involved with the union, and won an election to chief shop steward of the Seventh District.

Two years later, I ran for chairman on a platform of professionalism, anti-corruption, accountability for government officials, and zero tolerance for dirty cops. And then something wonderful happened: not only was I elected, but two other individuals, Wendell Cunningham and Delroy Burton were elected on the same platform. Wendell, Delroy, and I have been re-elected on the same platform of ethics and professionalism three times. As you have often heard me say in the media, nothing has made me prouder. It is one thing to have a few officers openly reject corruption, malfeasance, and demand transparency and professionalism from a police department – it is quite another to have the rank-and-file membership repeatedly make it clear that they will not tolerate corruption.

Over the past eight years, the D.C. Police Union has been transformed. For those of you that were here a decade ago, you may remember that the union had virtually no media presence (we had to pay for an ad in the Washington Post just to present our side of an issue), no history of litigating tough issues, and little or no influence with community groups or the D.C. Council.

Now we are the most formidable union in the District. In the face of two open hostile mayoral administrations and the biggest economic downturn of our lifetimes, we have not only persevered – we have grown stronger. While other unions have been decimated or simply disappeared; while other city employees have been laid off or furloughed; while other city employees have had their retirement benefits taken from them; while union after union has seen its members’ pay cut or had to give back raises – we have held fast.

How big has the change been? You need only look at our recent record with regard to influencing legislation in the District. The gains we have made are extraordinary. In the past three years, we have pushed back two attacks on our retirement, successfully protected our health benefits on two occasions, reversed legislation that would have destroyed our use-or-lose leave system, and, last month, had legislation introduced that would provide us future cost of living adjustments and retroactive pay to compensate for the past six years. That type of legislative record would have been unimaginable ten years ago.

The gains have come across the board. On the litigation front, we have built teams of litigators that have won in every possible venue. Our history of litigation and arbitration victories is unprecedented, and has helped shine a light on the unethical behavior of the District. Our reputation and relationship with residents and community groups has gone from nonexistent to our union leaders being invited to speak on a regular basis, and community members volunteering to testify on our behalf in front of the Council. Internally, with the help of Mary Bonaccorsy and Delroy Burton, we have built rigid financial controls and procedures, and we have come in under budget for eight years in a row. Our audits are the envy of any organization.

How did we come so far? Your support and our professional union leadership are the main reasons. We have proven that we do have rights, and that if we stand strong and remain patient, we will triumph. The changes in the leadership of the Executive Council have been a big part of our success. Sporadic and acrimonious meetings have been replaced by professional monthly meetings where the business of the union and the welfare of our members is the focus. The amount and quality of the work being done by the chief shop stewards is impressive. The current Executive Council contains some of the best leaders I have worked with and I am indebted to them for all of their hard work on behalf of the members.

In addition, communicating our rights and our positions has been the key to many of our successes. In fact, one of the most important roles of a chairman and other leadership positions is to understand how the law works, how the union works, and to understand the processes that are involved. We are often called upon to serve as expert witnesses in arbitrations and trials, testify before the D.C. Council, speak before the media, or handle negotiations with the District. An effective union leader must be able to communicate and explain the law and our contract both orally and in writing.

This is one of the reasons I am comfortable stepping away at this point. Not only do you have a terrific Executive Council, you also have leaders that have proven themselves when it comes to understanding and communicating the positions of the union. Delroy Burton and Wendell Cunningham have become experts in how the union works, and have proven time and again that they are excellent witnesses and communicators. The number and type of cases they have won on our behalf is remarkable. We do not just win our cases because the law is on our side. We prevail because we have skilled litigators and expert witnesses that have the ability to explain our positions. And as long as the union has responsible leadership, I will remain a resource for the union.

Finally, our long-term negotiating and litigation strategies have been put into place and have proven effective. The contract process and several important litigation issues are now largely completed. After six years of carefully protecting our rights and placing us in the best possible position to prevail in arbitration, we have now submitted the decision on our contract to an arbitrator. Whether we prevail or not, the record will reflect the care and professionalism that we took in addressing the contract and I am confident that you will be supportive of our positions (and appalled at the positions of the Department and District). Other litigation matters such as All Hands on Deck, court overtime, information requests, retaliation, and pay issues have been resolved in our favor and now it is mostly a matter of wading through the endless appeals by the District.

And so, with the other leaders on the Executive Council supporting Delroy, Wendell, and Mary – I leave this union in excellent hands. We are lucky to have this type of leadership, and I look forward to being able to go back to work as a police officer with the knowledge that they are protecting all of our interests. Again, thank you for your support. I look forward to seeing you out there.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery