Anyone who thinks keeping a lid on the pay for city and county police officers saves taxpayers money should take a refresher course in basic economics.
A class can be audited today just with a close look at what has happened to the Columbus Police and Bartholomew County Sheriff’s departments in recent years because they have not been able to keep pace with salaries offered in other communities. The city and county departments have lost at least 18 of their personnel to other departments because of the higher salaries that were available to them.
Ironically, 11 former Bartholomew County deputies moved over to the Columbus department, which at the time offered higher pay rates than they had been making.
The Columbus department, on the other hand, has lost officers to federal law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, Secret Service and U.S. Customs, in addition to other Indiana departments in Fishers, Carmel and Bloomington.
These were not just warm bodies that can be replaced off the street.
Each of the officers who moved to other agencies had undergone extensive training, both at the state police academy and in local indoctrination programs for periods of almost up to a year. Columbus Police Chief Jason Maddix estimates the city pays almost $45,000 in training an individual officer before he or she assumes full-time duties.
Training doesn’t end at the completion of the local fieldwork. Each year of experience adds several layers of knowledge and skills in dealing with extremely difficult and often dangerous situations. All that is lost when an officer moves to another department, and the training process starts all over.
Some moves are inevitable and to be expected. There have been instances in which factors other than pay have influenced decisions to leave the local departments.
But there should be no excuse for local governments when their officers choose to go to other communities, such as Franklin, Seymour, Westfield and West Lafayette, all of which have lower populations but pay their officers more money, in some cases up to an additional $11,000 a year.
The smaller population/bigger pay difference is not the only dichotomy Columbus and Bartholomew County departments face. Other communities, such as Noblesville, Fishers and Bloomington, which have slightly larger populations, pay their officers from $6,000 to $14,000 a year more than what is offered here.
It is this issue that the elected officials who ultimately set the salary schedules and the public at large must keep uppermost in their minds.
Save for significantly larger metropolitan areas, it would seem reasonable that the pay for local officers at the very least be on a par with smaller and slightly larger communities.
There are hundreds of public servants in this community, the majority of whom make considerably less than uniformed officers. However, their jobs do not require wearing a gun or bulletproof vest.
Police work in Columbus and Bartholomew County is dangerous. Even the most innocuous of calls for a domestic disturbance can turn into a life-threatening situation. There is even danger for an officer in a routine traffic stop. In past years there have been a number of officers who were struck by vehicles after they had pulled drivers to the side of a highway.
These men and women in uniform are worth more than the salaries they now receive.