Police Pay Plan Will Fail To Retain And Recruit

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My husband, a six year veteran patrol officer of Chattanooga Police Department, knew when he applied to be a police officer he wasn’t going to get rich; I don’t believe any person who is called to the law enforcement field does it for the money.  

When he graduated with a bachelor’s degree and chose to enter the law enforcement field he was well aware of the reality that he would make significantly less money than the majority of his classmates. What we did not expect was for him to be making significantly less than other officers in cities of comparable size and population, most with extremely far less crime.  

We certainly didn’t believe that he would have to worry about pay disparities within his own department among his peers, some with the same seniority date.  After I saw the new pay plan the city unveiled, I have serious concerns about my husband’s ability to provide for us, without continuing to work countless hours at side jobs.

In 2011, under the Littlefield administration, the city introduced the” Police Officer Career Development” a program which consisted of officers completing special law enforcement training.  This program had eligibility restrictions based on years of service for each respective rank.  The special law enforcement training was further restricted based on availability of the training, the staffing of the department to allow officers to attend, and the officers' ability to pay for the training themselves as the department provided no funding or travel expenses for the officers to attend this training.   

My husband and many other officers took advantage of this opportunity for advancement, even though it seemed almost unachievable as this was the only available avenue for officers to receive a pay increase.  However if an officer was able to complete the required number of training hours and had reached the years of service required for the rank they were eligible to apply for that rank. The applications were then reviewed by a committee to ensure the applicant met the requirements.  This program was further restricted with an “if funding is available” clause.  If an officer was able to overcome all of the obstacles and meet all the requirements, a pay increase respective to that rank would follow.  At the time the city introduced this program it was said to be fully funded within three years.   

On Oct. 9, 2012 an email was sent to all sworn officers of the Chattanooga Police Department, from then Police Chief Dodd, that effective immediately no new applications would be accepted for the POCD program and the application process was suspended until a revised POCD program was adopted with anticipated effective date of Jan. 1, 2013.  Officers continued to pay for training courses and travel expenses out of their own pockets believing the program would resume as promised.  Only officers that had reached the years of service requirement and obtained the necessary hours of specialized training by the Dec. 31, 2012 deadline would receive a pay increase.   

My husband completed all the necessary training, having to travel to Meridian, Ms. on five separate occasions at our own expense over the course of two years in order to obtain the required training hours which were not offered by Chattanooga Police Department.  My husband missed the cut off by 39 days when he would have reached the years of service requirement for advancement, which would have resulted in a $3,525 pay increase.  Under the new pay plan it will take an additional seven years for him to reach the level of pay he was promised under the POCD program.  

The POCD program never resumed after it was suspended in October 2012, leaving officers uncompensated for their efforts and expenses.  The email also stated that the Police Department was working with the Personnel Department to make modifications to the program. These modifications can only be because the city of Chattanooga underestimated the determination and diligence of these officers to accomplish the truly unrealistic requirements to obtain career advancement; so much so that modifications were needed to further discourage the officers from participating in the program.  

Many officers did not participate in the program because they could not afford to pay for the required training and related expenses out of pocket, had obligations that prohibited them from traveling for weeks at a time, or simply chose not to sacrifice time with their families for an underfunded program from the start.

In March 2013 a new mayor took office, Andy Berke, who instead of acknowledging the hard work and effort of these officers, some who had been waiting months for the compensation they had earned, chose to abandon the POCD program and gave an across the board 1.5 percent raise to all city employees which equated to $400 for my husband. This only furthered the pay disparity gap between officers who were compensated for their accomplishments with the POCD program and those who were not. To put this in perspective over the next seven years the officers who were compensated for their participation in the POCD program will earn $24,675 more than officers who completed the same training but were not compensated during this same time frame.  I can’t imagine how anyone could think this is fair and equitable pay for employees who do the exact same job.  This pay issue is not isolated to my husband, it affects countless other officers working side by side, doing the same job, same shift, for the same department being compensated at a far from fair and equitable pay. 

If you look at comparable agencies the new pay plan is not designed as it has been reported to recruit and retain officers.  A 12 year veteran of the Chattanooga Police Department is compensated $42,882 and a new police academy graduate at Nashville Metro Police Department is compensated $40,125, a difference of $2,757 for 12 years of service; Nashville Metro also offers education incentive pay for a college degree the same scenario for an officer with a Bachelor’s degree ($42,533) results in a difference of $349. Basically a 12 year veteran of Chattanooga Police Department is compensated $349 for their 12 years of service as compared to day one on the job at Nashville Metro.   

I believe anyone seeking a career in law enforcement would choose Nashville Metro over Chattanooga Police Department based on these facts.  Memphis Police Department offers a lateral transfer with only three years prior law enforcement experience at a starting pay rate of $53,573.  Chattanooga’s crime rate becomes more of a mirror image to Memphis with each new shooting and homicide.  According to Knoxnews.com, of the 333 patrol officers at the Knoxville Police Department 211 or 63 percent are paid between $40,615 and $61,513.  In addition to lower pay in March the City Council approved Mayor Andy Berke’s pension reform in which employee contributions will rise by nearly 40 percent, which will further reduce what an officer receives on his actual paycheck.    

My husband is one of only five officers left from his February 2008 academy which started with 16 cadets.  A new police academy was scheduled to begin in June of this year but it was postponed because there were not enough qualified applicants.  I cannot imagine the applicant pool improving with this new pay plan, when a potential applicant has so many other options with far better wages and benefits. 

Mikki Fielden
CPD Wife

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