In a bit of a departure from most meetings between Metro Police and City Council – today the focus at Council’s morning workshop was on something other than crime. A couple of times a year – Metro Police Command Staff report to Council on the state of the department, community crime trends and what they’re doing about it – but today though they had planned to do the same – it was recruiting and retention that took center stage.
It’s no secret that Metro Police are trying to correct a retention problem that’s been ongoing for years. Chief Jack Lumpkin says, “The affect is that you can’t put officers in the seats and you can’t put officers on the crime issues – you can’t do best practice policing if you’re 15 or 18-percent less than your authorized staff.” The department is currently 75 officers short of a full staff. 447 have left in the last five years – the majority due to resignations. Chief Lumpkin says, “We have to stop hemorrhaging officers and we have to stop people from cherry picking.”
A major marketing effort has improved recruiting numbers – but still faces some major challenges including cherry-picking of Metro’s trained officers by other area municipalities, lower pay and benefits than many other departments in the southeast, and image problems impeding local recruiting. Alderman Tom Bordeaux exclaimed, “Everybody we’re in competition with in recruiting new officers pays more – we are at the bottom. If somebody wants to come down from New York or Boston or Michigan or California or wherever – to work here in the south as a police officer – we are the last medium size city they will consider, based on pay, based on feeding their family.”
The difference in pay ranges from about two to six thousand dollars a year – plus a take home car without the two year wait for eligibility Metro requires. Aldermen seemed to agree that public safety is their number one priority and they have to fund it as such. Alderman Carolyn Bell says, “I would have never probably thought that we really should – in the middle of a budget year – talk about making this sort of drastic change and investment – but again – we are at a crisis point and I don’t think we can afford to wait.”
A pay and benefits study of city positions is being conducted right now. The City Manager says there is a June 30th deadline and she hopes to be able to return to council with some specific numbers regarding needed increases at the first meeting in July.