Recruitment and retention is an issue for police departments at all levels, all across the country. The city of Kenai took a step to try and make its department more attractive to potential law enforcement officers with some financial incentives approved by the city council this week.
Signing bonuses, recognition pay and a little bump for swing shifts and night shifts are all part of a plan the city hopes will not only make it easier to fill the ranks of the city’s police department, but also keep them here longer. City manager Paul Ostrander says discussions about how to better recruit and retain officers started more than a year ago, after the state addressed similar issues facing the Troopers, who have drawn municipal cops away as a result of better pay and benefits.
“I’d like to think that our department offers benefits that the Troopers can’t, that are maybe less tangible than pay. But if you look at it straight across the board as far as compensation, our compensation is not equivilant to theirs certainly, and in particular with the more experienced officers.”
Municipalities across the state have faced similar problems in terms of being competitive with the Troopers. And in Kenai, long term understaffing has led to a lot of overtime for current officers. The department has been short three to four officers for the last six months.
“It was obvious there was an issue that we needed to look at how we were compensating our officers to make sure that we could effectively recruit and then also retain our more experienced officers.
The signing bonuses will be for new officers that have already been through the in-state academy or for out of state officers, who have the same training. The cost of the bonuses will be partially offset by not having to pay for that academy training after someone’s been hired. The plan also calls for incentive pay for officers after they’ve hit the five year mark. Those officers will move up a spot on the pay scale.
“What we’ve found is that as we put significant time and money into these officers, both through the academy and additional training, once they get to that five year period, to retain those more experienced officers, it was appropriate to move them up a range to continue to incentize them.”
That, in turn, means changes in pay ranges for the upper ranks of the department as well. The ordinance also recognizes some of the other duties as assigned part of the job, like being a field patrol officer. That’s a more experienced cop assigned to be with a new hire for a few months.
“Typically we have one officer that’s with that trainee for one month, then it changes to a second Field Training Officer and then for the third month to a third officer. During the period they are a Field Training Officer, this ordinance proposes that they get a five percent increase in their base pay.”
Investigators will also get a five percent raise. Ostrander says the package is likely to be revenue neutral for the remainder of the current fiscal year. Beyond that, the bonuses and pay increases are expected to cost an additional $115,000 a year. That number was no concern for the council, which passed the ordinance unanimously