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Ill. agency may pay $20K signing bonus for lateral transfers

The bonus would compensate for the fact that the officers would be hired at the lowest level of the pay scale, despite their experience

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By Steve Lord
The Beacon-News, Aurora, Ill.

AURORA, Ill. — Aurora is seeking to pay a signing bonus to experienced police officers to hire them away from other departments.

Officials are seeking a $20,000 bonus for such officers, to make up for the fact that they would be hired at the lowest level of the pay scale, despite their experience.

The current police pay scale does not provide a level for the experienced officers, because traditionally, new hires come from the list of potential officers who have passed needed tests, but have not been police officers before.

The practice of hiring experienced officers is known as lateral hiring, and is used by other area police agencies. Aurora wants to use it as a way of getting officers who can fit in quickly, and don’t need to take the state’s training. It also would allow the city to recruit more African American and Hispanic officers, officials said.

City officials have said that due to a number of retirements, the city needs more police officers.

“The program is very timely because there has been a hiring crisis that we need to address,” said Alex Alexandrou, the city’s chief management officer, to aldermen on the Finance Committee recently.

The move to pay the signing bonus is a management right, Alexandrou said.

The permanent solution is to develop a place in the police pay scale for experienced officers. The idea is that they could be hired at a rate higher than the beginning level, recognizing their experience. But they would be low on the seniority level in every other way, for things like choosing vacation and getting overtime.

Alexandrou acknowledged that to do that, the city and the police union “need to bargain a new pay scale.”

“We have to change with the times,” Alexandrou said. “We need to have more diverse, more experienced officers, while taking care of the officers who are here.”

But Lee Catavu, president of the Association of Professional Police Officers, which represents 297 officers in the Aurora Police Department, has accused the city of failing to negotiate in good faith in trying to implement the lateral hiring program.

He said the union “has never objected” to lateral hiring. But he said the city is moving to address that program instead of prioritizing getting a new overall contract. The police union contract expired at the beginning of 2020.

He also said the city has been advertising the signing bonus on its Facebook page and other social media, without having officially approved it.

Alexandrou said the city could implement the bonus program without specific City Council approval. But the council approves any adjustments in the budget to accommodate the program.

(c)2021 The Beacon-News (Aurora, Ill.)