Since Christmas, the Minden Police Department has lost four officers, a total of 38 since 2011, because those on the force say the higher risk doesn’t come with a higher salary.
Members of the police department met with city government Thursday to discuss ways to help increase the city’s revenue, to help “stop the bleeding” with officers leaving the department and citing low pay at a rapid pace.
“We kind of feel like we have been neglected,” Captain Marvin Garrett told the council. “Some of the officers that were here when I came in the 90s have moved on to bigger and better things because of money.”
Because of the shortage of officers, Garrett said Minden’s low crime rate could begin to increase because the department’s response time is suffering, which gives criminals the upper hand. Typically with a full roster, response time on a call would be two to three minutes, but with a shortage of officers, the time goes to five to 10 minutes, Garrett said.
“We treat those calls very serious to keep those crime rates down,” he said. “To keep it where our city stays safe.”
In 2016, the department made 985 arrests, served 408 warrants, wrote 3,716 traffic tickets and responded to 609 auto crashes, according to data provided by the department.
“We set the standard, according to FBI statistics for the City of Minden per capita, for low crime rate in a city our size,” Garrett told the council. “Why are we losing officers because of money? If we are setting the standard, we should be attracting them.”
District D Councilman Mike Toland said the council was aware the low pay was affecting officers and the council needed to find a solution.
“We know how good y’all are, there is no dispute about that,” Toland said “ We need to figure out a way to get you some money. We know you deserve it, we know you are leaving, we know your underpaid.”
Toland said getting the police department a raise was a goal of his when he came into office; however, it wasn’t until he was on the council that he realized the reality of Minden’s revenue problems and money was tight for the city. He said it wasn’t an issue of the work the department does, but an issue of finding the money.
Minden Mayor Tommy Davis presented the council with an incentive program put together by Minden Police Chief Steve Cropper that would provide some “immediate relief.”
Under the program, officers that have an associates degree would receive an additional $100 a month, while those with a bachelor’s degree would receive $150 and a master’s degree holder would receive $200 each month.
Officers would also receive additional money each month for those that are certified to be a firearms instructor, receive intoxilizer certification, receive a detective promotion, become CPR certified, undergo criminal law update and receive a highway interdiction certification. Officers would also be reimbursed $30 each month for using their personal cellphone on the job.
According to figures by the department, if the incentive program were to be enacted, it would cost the city just under $4,000 a month with the current officers on the roster.
District E Councilman Benny Gray said he recognized the proposal wasn’t a lot of money, but asked how the officers felt about the incentive program.
“Any little bit is a good start, it’s a seed that will grow at some point and time,” Sgt. Joel Kendrick said. “ Any little bit we can get, we are happy for.”
Garrett said the general consensus in the department is they don’t want it to become a Band-Aid for the problem.
In addition to the short-term fix, members of the department also presented the council with options for long term fixes.
Legalizing packaged liquor to increase sales tax, moving away from civil service to eliminate some of the city’s costs for officer’s retirement, adding a fee on utility bills to be used for public service salaries, increasing property taxes, patrolling Interstate 20 and other fees were among ideas discussed to help fund pay raises for officers.
Before any additional tax or fee is approved, Davis said the city would bring it before the people first.
Aggressively prosecuting traffic tickets would also help increase revenue for the city, Cropper said. The 3,716 traffic tickets the department wrote in 2016 would have generated more than $700,000 for the city, but he says that once they were sent outside of his department, only around one-third of tickets were prosecuted in city court.
“They know they can wheel and deal with that guy and talk their way out of it and get anger management and pay $200 and they’re done when the city should be owed some money for that officer spending the time to go out and investigate that crime,” Kendrick added.
The city absorbing 100 percent of the officer’s cost of health insurance, which is currently costs officers $188.80 per month, was also proposed to the council as a way to help put more money in officer’s pockets.
Currently, city employees pay 25 percent of the insurance cost with the city picking up the remaining 75 percent.
“What if I told you that you could give officers a $2,265.60 a year raise,” Kendrick said, explaining it wouldn’t cost the city any extra in retirement or Medicare costs.
With a fully staffed department at the current health care cost, the additional cost to the city would be $74,764.80 a year, according to Kendrick.
Davis said he wasn’t sure if the city would be able to do it for one department and not another.
City Clerk Micheal Fluhr said the city recently met with the health insurance company and the cost for the city’s health insurance could possibly be going up 20 percent so the cost to the city would be greater if the city absorbed the health care costs of the officers.
Detective Ryan Barnette said if the health care costs for the officers went up with the officer’s pay remained low, more officers could potentially leave the department.
It’s not just losing officers, Cropper said, the low pay also is impacting recruiting efforts. He said the department isn’t receiving any applications to fill positions of the officers that have left.
City officials estimate it costs around $4,000 to train a new officer. Officers the city pays to attend the academy must sign a two-year contract with the department, but officials say once that two years is up, the officer will leave the department because of the pay.
Garrett told the council the general consensus around the department is that officers need about $800 more a month, but realizes that would be not possible. He said to keep the officers the department has, $500 more a month is what they need.
A $400 a month raise for a fully staffed department would cost the city an additional $210,989 each year, according to figures provided by the police department.
“We needed input from you and you did your homework, thank you for that,” Davis said to the officers. “We have bait, now we just need to catch fish. We will work through these ideas and see what can be done.”