'It's time for us to do something': N.C. PDs add competitive salaries to recruit, retain officers
Greensboro PD is approved to have an $11K increase in starting pay after seeing four officers switch to join another city's departmentt
By Annette Ayres
News & Record
GREENSBORO, N.C. — After losing some officers to higher-paying departments, the city's police chief is hearing positive feedback after he recently urged elected leaders to fund higher starting salaries to help hire and keep officers.
"Officers have reached out to their leadership and reached out to me directly, expressing gratitude and feeling encouraged by the recent conversations," Police Chief John Thompson said about the city's signal of support.
With a shortage of 115 officers — out of an allocated 691 — Thompson received a commitment from City Council to direct staff to seek funding in its next budget cycle to raise starting salaries from $46,000 to $57,000.
According to Thompson, the Burlington police department raised its starting salary to $55,000 last year. At least four Greensboro officers have recently made lateral moves to the neighboring city.
"I believe this work (to raise salaries) is encouraging to those inside the agency, and potential recruits and laterals," Thompson said. "We want to be a premier agency and compensation and benefits play a critical role in that."
This news comes as the department plans to host an informational and hiring event on Wednesday.
Working in law enforcement, officials acknowledge, can be tough on good days, and even tougher without the community's trust and support. Thompson said the support from elected leaders is a "direct reflection" of their constituents' concerns for public safety.
Competitive salaries are a crucial component, Thompson explained, for being able to attract and retain the officers needed to respond to 911 calls across the city and keep the community safe.
Last week, the Alamance County Sheriff's Office held a recruiting event for sworn deputies and detention officers. According to spokesman Byron Tucker, new hires can expect to make roughly $50,000 "with additional incentives possible."
"Competitive salaries and benefits are extremely important not only to attract new hires but to retain them," Tucker said. "Training a new officer, whether a sworn deputy or a detention officer, is very expensive and time consuming. Starting salaries are certainly important, but benefits can become a make or break."
At the High Point Police Department, the current minimum base salary for police recruits starts at $47,887 before incentives are added for education (up to 10%), military or previous experience (up to 10%), Spanish proficiency (up to 5%) and probationary salary increases (a minimum of 4.5%) during the first 12 months of employment.
In Forsyth County, a deputy sheriff's starting pay is $44,531.50 — or about $20.15 per hour. Pay incentives are offered for prior law enforcement service, prior active military service, associate's degree, bachelor's degree and bilingual ability.
In Guilford County, a deputy sheriff's starting pay is $43,430.47 with many of the same pay incentives as its neighbor to the west.
"It is clear that law enforcement salaries are not representative of the times we are living in," Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby F. Kimbrough Jr. said. "Should not those among us who are required to give the most and, if necessary, make the ultimate sacrifice — should not their salaries represent it?"
The Highway Patrol also is hoping for a bump to troopers' starting salaries upon the conclusion of this legislative session and approval of the state budget. Currently, the hiring salary of $46,058 increases to $49,516 upon graduation from Patrol School, according to spokesman Sgt. Chris Knox.
While agencies look at how to best attract recruits and experienced personnel, the impact of vacancies is being felt in Greensboro. Due to the shortage of officers, Thompson said department leadership has been forced to make difficult decisions about how to shift personnel to bolster the patrol division. For instance, Thompson said he reduced traffic units — including DWI enforcement — despite traffic issues being a concern among residents who participated in recent community surveys.
Thompson's top priorities are to ensure the patrol units are staffed in order to respond to 911 calls across the city and to have officers available to address violent crime.
"Unfortunately, what we're seeing, is that this violence is across our community and is impacting us in multiple ways," Thompson said.
Thompson suggested possibly cutting 30 allocated, unfilled positions to provide a $3,000 across-the-board raise. It wasn't immediately clear when or if that may be voted upon by council members.
The police department is also considering whether civilians should fill roles such as taxi inspector and court liaison to free up more officers to assist with patrol, Thompson said.
City Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter said during a recent meeting that the community is aware police officers are leaving the department for other communities that pay more. She said this comes at a time when Greensboro is experiencing growth and attracting businesses to the city.
"We're not going to have enough officers to cover this," she said. "It's time for us to do something."
Abuzuaiter said increasing pay will also help retain recruits that the city has invested in training — at a cost of about $75,000 per officer. According to department spokeswoman Josie Cambareri, the department also pays recruits their full police salary when they are in the academy.
Lt. Kory Flowers, who oversees recruiting for the Greensboro Police Department, said his team enjoys talking to interested recruits about the rewards and challenges that come with the profession.
"We value those conversations," Flowers said. "It's the job everybody wants to do."
He said the department's recruiters also travel to colleges and job fairs, where candidates often ask about quality of life, cost of living and taxes in North Carolina, housing and patrol schedules.
"We have the best patrol schedule in the United States," Flowers said. "You have four days on, four days off. That's a big draw."
That schedule, he said, allows officers to use that time for family, hobbies or an opportunity to earn supplemental income.
Among applicants, the academy will usually accept between 25 to 35%, he said. About half are from the Triad region, and the department receives a lot of interest from people in New York and New Jersey.
"We're casting a very wide net," Flowers said.
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