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Base salary for SPD officers increases to nearly $42,000 next week

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — With a 6.5% pay increase for police officers included in the 2021-22 budget and a cost-of-living increase coming, Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes says he’s confident the department’s new base pay will be competitive with nearby markets.

Salisbury City Council members last week approved a $47 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes raises for police. Initially, the city’s budget guaranteed a 5% raise for sworn officers, which Stokes told the Post was good, but not competitive with the nearby market. During a meeting on May 26 to discuss the budget, City Manager Lane Bailey presented council members with the option to include an additional 1.5% raise, amounting to $92,000, because he anticipated nearby law enforcement agencies would also be raising their pay to remain competitive.

Council members ultimately agreed to using nearly $1.5 million in surplus funding from the current fiscal year to cover the raises for police and public works employees for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Beginning Thursday, July 1, the base salary for all officers will increase from $39,357 to $41,916, with another increase in effect on Jan. 1 when all city employees receive a 2% cost-of-living adjustment. After the city’s required 12-month probationary period for officers, the salary would increase by 5% to $44,892.

To incentivize new hires, the department’s compensation package also includes a 2.5% increase for bilingual candidates, $750 sign-on bonus, $5,000 bonuses for lateral transfers, a 1% increase per year based on years of service and a $3,000 relocation bonus to Rowan County. Additionally, educational bonuses include $1,000 for an associate’s degree, $2,000 for a bachelor’s and $2,500 for a master’s.

Officers would also receive a take-home vehicle if they live within 30 miles of the county, 8.5 hours of annual leave, 8.5 hours of sick leave per month and with 13 paid holidays. All officers would be eligible for the state’s retirement system with the medical benefits provided prior to 2012.

“It’s a very tough hiring market for officers right now. Candidates are slim, and that’s nationwide,” Stokes told the Post. “We are now competitive with (surrounding agencies) with these adjustments.”

The previous compensation package also included a $3,000 incentive for relocation, a $750 sign-on bonus for new hires and up to $5,000 sign-ons for lateral transfers. New hires were also incentivized with 16 hours of annual leave, access to the city’s onsite wellness clinic and free rides on Salisbury Transit. Access to the wellness clinic and free transit rides remain in effect for Salisbury police officers.

In a February city council meeting, Stokes said nine nearby agencies provide higher starting salaries for officers, including Mooresville, Concord, High Point and the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office. Based on exit interviews, Stokes said the main concerns included a lack of career advancement opportunities, compression in pay scales and opportunities elsewhere to apply skills and abilities. A young staff and low-quality applicant pool are two other challenges facing the department.

Additionally, Stokes reported 2020 saw the lowest number of students entering basic law enforcement training since 2016. Last year’s class produced 50% fewer students than 2019, according to the NC Justice Standards Commission. The commission also estimates there are at least 1,000 vacancies across police departments in North Carolina.

In an interview with the Post, Stokes noted a shortage of officers in 2017, when the department came close to resorting to the city’s interlocal agreement with surrounding law enforcement agencies for assistance. But the department is “still not at a point where they have to call on the interlocal agreement,” he added.

For the 2017-18 fiscal year, new officers received a 15% raise, which brought the base pay from $34,224 to $39,357 and then up to $41,325 after a 12-month probationary period.

After receiving the pay raise in 2018, the department reported nine officers left, but it hired 22 additional staff. In 2020, the department lost 12 and hired four officers. The department broke even with nine leaving and nine hired in 2019.

There was a 14.5% turnover rate in 2020, with the national rate set at 10.8%.

Stokes estimates it takes up to $80,000 to replace each officer after factoring in the salary, benefits, uniforms, equipment and training.

Stokes said recruiting officer Shaneesha Smith was able to present the new compensation package to potential recruits during the city’s annual Juneteenth celebration last week and plans to attend the upcoming job fair at West End Plaza on Saturday.

The department currently is working to fill 13 vacancies in the patrol division, but a few specialty positions are also open. That amounts to an approximate 16% vacancy rate. Stokes is authorized by the city to have 83 budgeted positions filled in the department.

Currently, the department has a few candidates who look promising, the chief added.

Stokes said the greatest need at this time is more patrol officers. Those officers serve as first responders who answer 911 calls. With the shortage of officers at this time, detectives are sometimes pulled from their cases to help patrol.

“When we have vacancies like that, calls may have to wait while (officers) handle other emergency calls,” Stokes said.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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