JPD chief proposes hiring/retention incentives for officers

Jefferson police chief Mark Clouse expects a need to hire three patrol officers in the next few months and he’s worried he won’t be able to attract good applicants. He’s also worried about why he’s back in hiring mode, as he’s hired five officers in the last four years. One is no longer with the department and two others are on Clouse’s “very likely to leave” list. The resignation of an officer hired five years ago is effective Nov. 18.

Clouse proposed an incentive and retention plan to the city council Tuesday evening. His goal is to keep new hires from leaving during their first 4-year contract.

The staffing challenge is the same faced by many rural employers – wages are lower and fewer young job candidates are drawn to the small town lifestyle. Clouse said job candidates are looking for the “glamour” of a larger police department in city with more social and entertainment options. They’re also looking for a better starting salary and more opportunities for training and advancement.

The starting annual salary for a new JPD officer is $41,516. That’s an increase of almost $4,000 since 2016, but it’s still $10-$15,000 less than other similar-sized agencies in the area. “We can’t beat that, but we’ve put together some small steps we think would take us in the right direction,” Clouse said.

He’s suggesting offering a monthly $200 student loan payment for new hires who have criminal justice degrees. He said the payment would continue the entire four years of the initial contract, with a possibility of extending it if the officer signs on again.
Officers with a criminal justice degree take a shorter class at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy to become certified. The city pays for the academy, so it’s the city that gets the financial benefit of the degree, not the officer. Clouse said a $200 monthly payment toward student debt “would be a huge incentive.” It’s also one that isn’t offered elsewhere.

Tuition for the ILEA is $8,000 for the full academy, or $3,800 for the shorter academy. The city also pays wages and benefits while the officer is at the academy. Clouse estimated cost of training an officer without a degree at $17,000. He also said it takes about a year for a new officer to be fully effective at his job.

Currently, if an officer leaves during the 4-year contract either he or his new employer has to “buy-out” the contract to cover a pro-rated amount for the Law Enforcement Academy and wages paid to the officer during the academy.

A new employer recently paid out the contract of a JPD officer. “They got a heck of a bargain,” Clouse said. “They got a guy with a year-and-a-half of training, certified and everything. It was a drop in the bucket of what it would have cost to take a person to that point, not to mention the time investment.”

The student loan incentive would be included in the cost of buying out the contract.
Also, if a departing officer’s contract isn’t bought out by the new employer, the officer can pay the city $100 a month. Clouse would like to see that increased to $350 a month.

Clouse proposed a $2,000 hiring bonus paid when the officer signs a contract. A new city employee sometimes works as long as a month before getting a paycheck. The sign-on bonus would make relocating less of a financial challenge. That also would be added to the cost of the contract.

“I’m not trying to force anyone to stay in Jefferson to work. I’m trying to make incentives so they want to stay here,” he said.

He suggested a $1,000 increase in the starting salary, saying it would be a step in the right direction.

He also waded into the issue of pay for longer tenured officers, saying, “Not only do we need to compete with other communities; we need to compete with our own employer.”

He provided wage comparisons between officers and employees in other city departments. With the current pay structure, officers receive only a cost of living adjustment in years 5-10 of their employment, while other employees receive step increases. An officer who has worked for the city for seven years earns $21.89 an hour; a public works employee earns $21.75 an hour.

“Everyone’s job who works for the city is important. No one has an unimportant job…. Everyone in the city works hard. We have a little different job in law enforcement… the hours, the holidays we spend away from our families. Those are choices that we make in law enforcement…. but 14 cents an hour. That’s what I’m talking about when I say we’re competing with our own employer,” Clouse said.

The presentation was informational for the council. Clouse answered a few questions, including one about the current union contract. The union contract expires in 2023. The incentives could be offered without a change in the contract, Clouse said.

In other business, the council approved appropriations for tax rebate payments under existing development agreements to Lincoln Ridge Estates (Mark Bauer), Jefferson Hotel Group (Cobblestone Inn) and Michael and Miranda Wahl (Wahl-McAtee Tire)

The city council also set a public hearing on an amendment to the Jefferson urban renewal plan for Nov. 27 at  5:30 pm. The amendment would allow the city to provide incentives to persons to make repairs and improvements to buildings in the entire urban renewal district, not only the downtown area.

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