February 27, 2017 at 11:22 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay D.C. police union head survives recall vote
Matthew Mahl, gay news, Washington Blade

Police Sgt. Matthew Mahl survived a recall vote last week. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gay D.C. Police Sgt. Matthew Mahl, who has served as head of the city’s police union since April 1, 2016, narrowly survived an effort by dissident union members to remove him from office in a recall election last week.

Just 982 of the more than 3,600 officers, detectives, and sergeants that the union represents turned out to vote in the recall election, according to a report on the vote that Mahl posted on the union’s Facebook page.

Among those that voted, 595, or 60 percent, voted in favor of removing Mahl from office while 387, or 39 percent, voted to allow him to stay in office for the remainder of his two-year term, which ends in April 2018. The vote fell short of a two-thirds, or 66.3 percent, majority vote needed to remove a union leader from office under the union’s rules.

“While I understand the frustration that some of the members have voiced, it is now time to join together and move forward: our next step is to begin our contract negotiations,” Mahl wrote in his Facebook message. “This will put us all on the same path working toward our common goal of bettering our working conditions and pay for all,” he said.

Mahl, a 12-year veteran at the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, won election by a 2-to-1 margin in January 2016 as chairman of the Labor Committee of the Fraternal Order of Police, the official name of the D.C. police union. Mahl served as acting supervisor and later as supervisor of the then Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit of the department from July 2012 to March 2015.

One source familiar with the police union said the recall vote was largely triggered by the belief by many officers that Mahl did not negotiate a strong enough agreement providing back pay for officers required to work overtime during special police deployments started by former D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier called All Hands on Deck.

In a court decision handed down before Mahl became union head a judge ruled that Lanier and the department violated the terms of the existing police labor contract by refusing to provide overtime pay for officers assigned to All Hands on Deck duties. The source familiar with the union, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said a judge ruled that the department must provide some amount of back pay to officers forced to work overtime under the All Hands on Deck over the past several years.

According to the source, Mahl did all he could to fight for as much back pay as possible, but city officials, including the mayor and City Council, would not agree to a sum anywhere near the amount many rank-and-file union members wanted.

“While the All Hands on Deck was one of the main reasons for the recall, it was only one part,” Mahl told the Washington Blade in an email message. “I also think the manner in which we communicate and disseminate information to the members is also a reason,” he said. “It’s inherently hard to communicate with the membership as a whole and my administration has failed on some level to try and make that better.”

Added Mahl: “Even though I prevailed, I realize there are a lot of my members that I have to recognize and work toward mending their relationship and trust of the union and as we enter into contract negotiations I and my team will be working hard to do that as well.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

1 Comment
  • Lanier’s AHODs were showboating public relations displays that provided the temporary illusion of MPD protection without providing serious community policing interaction– and the resultant crime deterrence/reduction that robust community/ police partnerships provide.

    That MPD police officer were cheated out of their AHOD overtime pay by successive mayors and councils for their service, well that just added insult to the injury of these sham, ineffective deployments.

    It’s no wonder the rank and file is still pissed off. Mahl has got to make up for lost ground. But he seems to be more honest and clear-eyed about it than some of his predecessors.

    Getting back to some daily PSA-level interaction with cops and the neighborhoods they serve is part of the answer, too. At some level, it helps build force morale, too.

    I hope Chief Newsham sticks to solid, proven policing and patrol services that rebuild community trust.

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