Todd Paris, Staff Writer and Salisbury Attorney
♦ In Salisbury’s print media another “false sense of security” report was posted yesterday claiming the Salisbury Police Department was coming out of officer shortages. Specifically five people have been offered employment by the city as police officers.
This “hopeful” report is way premature because the individuals must pass Basic Law Enforcement Testing (BLET) and also pass their field training before they can actually be on the ground filling those vacancies at the street level. Not everyone who takes BLET passes. Not everyone passes the physical aptitude POPAT test. When candidates do pass those tests, it’s not unusual for candidates to wash out during field training. In addition, it is not unusual for candidates to complete BLET only to receive a better offer from a more stable department.
Talk about counting chickens before they bust out of their shells. We understand the Police Chief is under pressure from the City Manager and City Council to fill the vacancies, but saying vacancies are filled before they actually are on the ground is misleading and not transparent.
The Police Chief also shared that 5 officers at Salisbury Police Department are slated to retire this year. This means that even IF all of the five candidates make it through the testing and training, then the SPD will be back at the same numbers. Most likely one or more of the candidates will wash out or get a better offer elsewhere and we will be worse off in vacancies.
When you take a look at neighboring Police Departments you find that the City Council’s excuses that statewide shortage of police officers exists is total bunk.
Kannapolis Police has three vacancies out of 88 positions, a 3% vacancy rate.
Concord Police has eight vacancies out of the 183 positions, a 4% vacancy rate.
Statesville Police has eight vacancies out of 83 positions, a 9% vacancy rate.
Salisbury Police has 19 vacancies out of 81 positions, a 23% vacancy rate.
That’s right readers, almost one in four Salisbury Police Officers are gone. While officer’s pay scales are kind of closely held secrets, I know by talking to officers that Kannapolis and Concord pay much better and Statesville pays about the same.
Interesting questions arise from the data. If the only problem is lower pay, why is Statesville doing more than twice as well on hiring and retention? Personal danger should not be an issue, I have seen Statesville’s FBI Uniform Crime Reports and it’s no “Shangra-La.”
I know from the deposition of ex Chief Collins in Lane vs. City of Salisbury that Salisbury’s Human Resources Department is much more active in officer discipline than city policy is supposed to permit. I have talked to ex officers who complain bitterly about this. They want to be hired and disciplined by their own command staff and use H-R to appeal, like city policy says, and not have H-R dictate to the chief. In the Lane deposition we learned that H-R Manager Ruth Kennerly directly fired an officer and that former Chief Rory Collins could not take any H-R action without going through her. Ultimately the city settled out of court in the Lane matter and paid a sizable settlement for Mrs. Kennerly’s wrongful termination of Officer Lane.
I also spoke with officers who are fully aware about the $6,700.00 per day Fibrant deficit reduces money for salaries and training and that each empty officer slot saves the city around $100K per year that can be tossed into this 2.4 million dollar per year black hole. I have also been told the small salary increase granted right after the last election for many of the officers, was consumed by their increased health insurance costs.
I also take some issue with 81 being “the number” of officers. Going back to Salisbury’s 2008 Fiscal Budget’s Summary of positions based on headcount for FY 2006-2008 we see 105 Police Department Positions. This was pre-recession of course, but it gives a solid idea of total staffing required. I also remember Ex City Manager David Treme cutting 9 positions through a reduction in force and the next City Manager obtaining a federal “COPS” Grant for 4 positions and a later pushing the City Council to vote for a one cent property tax increase to keep those four positions rather than cut them once the grant funds ran out. I have attached the page below and a link to that year’s budget. No I can not tell how many sworn vs. non-sworn positions are in that figure. When this year’s budget comes out a better comparison may be made.
http://www.salisburync.gov/ Departments/FinancialServices/ finance/Budget/Budget% 20FY2008.pdf
Chief Jerry is counting his chickens before they hatch to get good PR out there for the City Manager and City Council. It’s misleading and not transparent.
City Council needs to raise salaries substantially for all levels and get H-R and Council out of the day to day hiring, firing, and disciplinary process. Secondly, Salisbury is “hard duty” and there is an elevated amount of danger here. We can’t pay “on par” with other cities, but we need to pay better.
When that officer goes home at night after a 12 hour shift and has given up days off to work extra duty and the spouse says, “Can’t you quit and apply at Freightliner or find a less dangerous city?” We need for officers to be able to say, “Well, Salisbury pays better than most of the departments around here, my chief and command staff have my back, and Salisbury’s City Council really supports our officers.”
City of Salisbury Summary of Positions Based on Headcount for FY 2006–2008: