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Officials: Discrepancy hurting local departments

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Law enforcement agencies in the Columbus area are seeking higher pay for their officers in an effort to improve retention.

For years, the Columbus Police Department and Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department have both lost officers to competing law enforcement agencies.

Eleven former sheriff’s department employees now are Columbus police officers, Sheriff Mark Gorbett said. That figure represents more than 28 percent of the department’s 40 full-time officers.

Gorbett believes the majority traded in their brown uniforms for blue because his highest-ranking deputies can receive up to a $6,000 raise by crossing the street from the jail to City Hall.

The Columbus department has experienced its own retention problems protecting a population of 44,677.

Over the past five years, CPD has lost seven officers to larger central Indiana cities such as Fishers, Carmel and Bloomington, which are roughly twice as big and all pay officers higher salaries. Additionally, Columbus has lost officers to federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, Secret Service and U.S. Customs.

The seven city officers who left represent almost 10 percent of the department’s entire professional workforce.

Addressing the pay gap

Columbus Police Chief Jason Maddix secured raises this year for his officers because he thought Columbus was unable to adequately compete with comparable-sized communities.

However, a patrolman with CPD ($43,675) still makes less  than a patrolman who works for neighboring police departments such as Seymour ($43,778) and Franklin ($44,881). A deputy with the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department makes $43,457.

As an incentive to keep its own experienced officers from leaving, the Columbus City Council approved raises this year ranging from 4 to 6 percent for all officers ranked from sergeant to major.

Also, officers with specialized training now receive an extra $500 to $1,000 annually per specialty. They can receive extra pay for up to three specialties, such as a bomb technician or Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) instructor.

“If you do extra, you get paid extra,” said Maddix, who pointed out the highest-paid specialties are those that involve the highest risk.

The Columbus Police Department is spending more than 91.4 percent, or $6,985,485, of its budget this year on salaries, which is more than any of the previous four years. Police salaries of $5,649,605 represented more than 89.4 percent of CPD’s budget in 2012.

Other steps designed to keep officers from leaving CPD include moving from 12-hour to eight-and-a-half hour shifts, providing high-quality training and equipment and providing take-home cars, Maddix said. The department also markets itself as a highly professional police agency, and strives to maintain high standards, he added.

The chief added that’s why CPD applied last spring for accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which sets best practices standards for public safety services across the country. The accreditation process is expected to be completed in 2015, Maddix said.

Although Columbus police officers are being paid more, and a greater portion of the department’s budget is devoted to pay and benefits, the cost per capita that Columbus residents pay for police protection lags behind other communities, Maddix said.

Every Columbus resident paid $184 annually in tax dollars for police protection in 2009, which Maddix said is the most current year available to him. He said that amount was 30 percent below the national per capita cost for law enforcement the same year.

Keeping pace

Gorbett said he hoped that by securing a 2.5-percent overall raise last fall for his staff, and increased pay for second- and third-shift personnel, it would bring his department closer to parity with CPD.

The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department is spending more than 66 percent, or $1,970,380, of this year’s budget on salaries. That’s more than in each of the previous four years.

But now that CPD has taken steps to compete with other cities, the sheriff’s department once again finds itself trying to keep pace.

“I’m in full support of Jason and what he’s doing,” Gorbett said. “But I’m further in the hole because I’m that much behind him.”

When Gorbett presents his 2014 budget to the Bartholomew County Council this summer, he is expected to request college and military benefits, along with parity pay with CPD among the ranking officers.

Columbus officers receive a higher base pay and are paid extra for military and college experience, while sheriff’s deputies are not provided those considerations.

Gorbett also said the city’s benefits concerning continuing education, longevity pay and pensions are more attractive than what he can offer his staff.

But even if the sheriff’s request is granted, he may again find himself lagging once again next year. That’s because Maddix said he will seek an additional 5-percent salary hike next year for city officers ranked between sergeant and major.

Recruits expensive investment

While every employer has to deal with turnover, few are required to invest as much time and money into new personnel as a police department, Maddix said.

Besides a lengthy hiring process, CPD has to put a new recruit through a 15-week police academy, followed by 14 weeks of local field training.

“It’s almost a year before we can replace one officer,” Maddix said. “We end up investing $44,626 in every new recruit before we can get one day of work out of them.”

The sheriff’s department also is required to make a similar investment of time and money for each new hire.

The investment by local police in new recruits is why state, federal and other city law enforcement agencies are competing heavily to recruit experienced officers, Maddix and Gorbett said.

Due to college and training requirements, specializations in law enforcement skills, and a higher post-9/11 demand for experienced officers, the chief and sheriff agreed that free-market forces now regard their law enforcement agencies as professional service providers. The term, often used in reference to attorneys and accountants, refers to workers who offer a specialized service.

Other factors key for new cops

Columbus Police Department Patrolman Zach Burbrink, 25, and Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Deputy Chase Kittinger, 24, both said pay is not the most important thing for recently-trained young lawmen.

Both men said they put a higher value on quality training and equipment than on salary. Burbrink said he also values the support he receives from more experienced officers, as well as local residents.

“In larger communities like Indianapolis, cops aren’t always appreciated for what they do,” Burbrink said. “In Columbus, you’re not always worried that someone is going to come up from behind to get you. Here, the community understands you are out trying to do your job, and they appreciate you.”

While Kittinger is not a Bartholomew County native as Burbrink is, Columbus is his wife’s hometown.

“For me, it would have to take a very significant pay difference to go anywhere because I enjoy Bartholomew County,” Kittinger said.

However, neither Burbrink nor Kittinger have children at this time. And, both men acknowledge their priorities are likely to change after they start their own families.

They also said they are fortunate not to be burdened by high debt like many other recent college graduates.

“If you have college incentives and certain benefits that match other departments, you’ll bring in more educated officers that want to continue learning in the future, and that strengthens the entire department,” Kittinger said.

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