Struggling with turnover and a perennial shortage of officers, the Statesboro Police Department will offer hiring bonuses ranging from $1,000 to $4,000, depending on experience, for already certified police officers, plus a $1,000 bonus for active-duty military veterans who become SPD officers.
City Council unanimously approved the 18-month trial run proposal presented Tuesday by Deputy Chief Robert W. “Rob” Bryan, who is the department’s interim chief.
“What we have seen in recent time is a struggle to recruit, a struggle to get officers into the door that will in turn make an impact by putting more officers on the street. Our attrition is continuing,” Bryan told the council. “So we’re looking at this as a pilot program to be able to report back to you.”
The program is to start immediately and extend through the next fiscal year, which will end June 30, 2018. At that time, the department will report back on whether the program is working. City Human Resources Director Jeff Grant has developed performance measures for use in gauging its success, Bryan said.
The Certified Officer Hiring Bonus program will provide a $1,000 bonus to newly hired officers who have Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training certification but no experience, $2,000 to POST-certified officers with less than two years of experience, $3,000 for those with two to five years of experience, and a $4,000 bonus for POST-certified officers with more than five years of experience.
A newly hired officer who was certified in another state and has a minimum of two years of experience will receive a $1,500 bonus.
Separately, the Military Service Bonus will provide an extra $1,000 to any officer hired by the SPD after completing at least four years of active-duty military service with an honorable discharge.
The maximum combined bonus would be $5,000 to any qualifying military veteran who was also a POST-certified police officer with more than five years of experience.
Limits and payback
New officers will not get the bonuses all at once. They are to receive one-third of the hiring bonus in their first paycheck, one-third upon successful completion of the department’s Field Training Officer, or FTO, program, and the final third on their one-year anniversary with the department.
Additionally, officers who receive either bonus must enter a three-year contract with the SPD. If an officer then separates from the department before the contract is up, the officer will be required to repay some or all of the bonus. An officer who left the first year would have to pay back 100 percent; one who left the second would have to repay 66 percent, and one who left the third year, 33 percent.
To get credit for experience, an officer must have served within the past five years in a full-time, sworn capacity with a full-service law enforcement agency with at least 15 full-time sworn officers.
One job notice, “Police Officer: Open until Filled,” seems permanent on a chalkboard at City Hall.
Currently, the Statesboro Police Department, budgeted for 74 sworn officers, has seven vacancies, Bryan said. Additionally, the department is paying five new hires enrolled at the academy, and five who have completed the academy and are now in the department’s Field Training Officer, or FTO, program, assigned to work with an experienced officer.
“So of the 74, you have 16 officers that cannot independently patrol, currently, either with the position being vacant, them being in the academy or them being in the FTO program,” Bryan said.
In that calculation, he wasn’t counting one of the seven official vacancies, that of the police chief.
A push with wide support in the state Legislature to increase the pay of state officers, such as those in the Georgia State Patrol and the Department of Natural Resources, by 20 percent will make the competition steeper, Bryan said.
He told the council that the SPD’s salaries were already about 12 percent lower than the state’s.
“We have to consider, the state has a different revenue source than we do….,” cautioned City Manager Randy Wetmore. “Even if we wanted to compete with that, we’d be hard-pressed to be able to give a 30 or 33 percent raise. So what we’re hoping is that this will make us more competitive, and hopefully the people that we recruit will be ones that will stay with us and stop that turning.”
Obviously, one goal of the program is to fill more vacancies with officers who are already trained.
By the time the officer is ready to patrol independently, the city typically will have spent $29,353 on an officer hired without certification, $19,349 on an officer who was certified when hired but had no experience, but only $12,278 on a certified officer who arrived with three years of experience, according to Bryan’s estimates.
When the department hires an officer who has not been certified, the city pays the salary and benefits of the cadet while at the academy, purchases an academy uniform for about $350 and typically pays an estimated $880 in fuel costs for travel to the academy. Then the department pays a rookie typically $10,663 during the FTO phase while paired with a training officer, Bryan reported.
Hiring an officer who has been certified but has no experience, the city avoids the academy costs but not the FTO phase. Bryan’s chart included a projection that a certified officer with three years of experience would complete the FTO program 40 percent faster.
Room for newbies
“You can see that there are savings by finding certified officers, but we would also like to leave three to four positions open for those who haven’t been through the academy, so some people within the Statesboro area who may want to be police officers would have that opportunity as well,” Wetmore told the council.
The bonuses will cost nothing that wasn’t already budgeted, according to Bryan. He said the money will come from that saved on the same positions while they were vacant.
Councilman John Riggs made the motion and Councilman Jeff Yawn seconded it. Mayor Jan Moore asked that the council get a report on the program every six months.
“Any time we can offer any type of extra incentive to get an officer to come in to work for the Police Department, I believe we’re going the right way of relieving some of our staffing issues and pressures,” Bryan said after the meeting.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.