The pay raises City Council approved for Statesboro Police Department officers last month produced an immediate rise in the number of would-be and experienced officers applying for job openings, Police Chief Mike Broadhead reported Tuesday.
Actually, the increases in officer pay, up through at least the rank of sergeant, take effect Jan. 1. But the department made immediate use of the promised pay rates in recruiting, with dramatic results. Entry-level pay will increase more than 12 percent, from the current $32,900 annual wages to a little over $37,000.
Since the day the council voted on the raise, Nov. 7, through the close of business Monday, the department received 42 applications, Broadhead told the mayor and council. The applicants included 35 who are not yet certified police officers wanting to come in at entry level, and seven certified officers seeking a lateral move from other departments, he said.
“To give you some comparison, that exact same date range a year ago we received nine total applications, and none of them were from lateral folks …,” Broadhead said, “and the only thing that’s changed really that we could point to is the wage increase.”
Gaining some experienced officers through lateral hires will allow the department to place more officers on the street sooner than hiring only uncertified recruits who have to complete the state academy.
Big cadet class
The number of applicants started to tick upward before the council formally approved the pay increase, while it was under public discussion for a month or 45 days previously, Broadhead said.
“So we’re going through a lot of applications right now,” he said. “We’re pretty excited to say we think we’re going to have eight in the academy in January, which will be about the largest academy class we’ve ever sent out.”
That includes five hires set to go to the academy and three more for whom the timing is less certain but who will go if background checks and other requirements can be completed in time, he said.
Cadets going to the academy in January will have 11 to 12 weeks to graduation, followed by 15-16 weeks on-the-job training paired with experienced officers in the department’s Field Training Officer program.
“By midsummer we’d have eight officers on the street working on the schedule. If we can fill in with some lateral hires behind that … that helps us in the interim period between now and then, and things start looking a whole lot better by the time school comes back in session next August,” Broadhead said.
Mayor Jan Moore, who looked at the personnel needs of cities statewide with a Georgia Municipal Association committee, cautioned Statesboro council members that the raise won’t be a permanent solution.
“Based on what is going on around the state in other communities, while this is great news that we’re getting people to apply to our Police Department at an unprecedented rate from where we’ve been, this wage inflation in public safety I don’t think has stopped,” Moore said. “You need to be cognizant of that. We’re all fighting over a smaller pool.”
Holding the line
Even with the recent officer applicants plus the pending hire of a lieutenant, the department will still be short 10 officers from its fully authorized force of 75, Broadhead said after the meeting. The department also had 10 vacancies in August before the discussion for the raise started.
So far just holding the line on vacancies, the department would have been “decimated” without the raise, Moore commented.
“But what encourages me is that we’re getting experienced people to come back and apply, because that’s where the immediate effect is going to be,” she said.
Tuesday morning’s session was the last scheduled council meeting of Moore’s four-year term, after she failed to win re-election Nov. 7.
Before approving the police raise package that day, the council in September approved a 1-mill increase in the property tax rate. Moore had proposed a half-mill to 1-mill increase, with at least the half mill to go to fund the raises. Council approved the full mill, but a majority of the members informally said that they wanted the full mill to go to police raises or other public safety spending.
The 1-mill tax increase adds $40 to the tax on $100,000 worth of property, assessed for taxes at 40 percent of its market value. The increase is expected to generate about $647,000 added revenue, and City Manager Randy Wetmore said in November. The package of raises, including those above entry level needed to avoid compression in the pay scale, will cost about $442,000 a year, Wetmore said Tuesday.
This is higher than the $420,000 to $425,000 estimate he gave in November, and Moore said the raises may extend to lieutenants. Previously, the raises were described as extending through sergeant rank.
In another use of funds from the property tax increase for a public safety purpose, the council Tuesday unanimously approved a lease obtaining two different sites along Chandler Road for a single police substation for 18 months beginning Jan. 1. Lisa P. Hodges is to provide a temporary building for six months followed by a permanent building for 12 months at an aggregate cost of $54,600.
City officials plan to use these buildings to create a steady SPD presence in this high-traffic area bordering the Georgia Southern University campus, and more details will be provided in a later story.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.