Chief Troye Dunlap said salaries for his department have been stagnant for years. During a budget workshop Aug. 12, Dunlap said the current starting wages at the department were making it difficult to bring in new recruits.
The last time the scale had been changed was in 2018. When speaking with the Shenandoah City Council, Dunlap said he did a comparison study with other neighboring police departments that were willing to speak with him to show the need for increasing the pay. He found his department was paying around $8,000 below the average starting pay.
“Locally .... we are below the average,” Dunlap said. “That hurts us.”
Information from the Shenandoah finance department indicates in 2020-21 the starting salary for a police officer is $51,824. In the neighboring Oak Ridge North, officers start out at $57,915.
Both Dunlap and Tom Libby, the chief of the Oak Ridge North Police Department, said they have had difficulty recruiting in recent years for multiple reasons.
“We are lucky to get between five and 10 applicants for one position,” Libby said. “Not too many people want to be the police anymore. What you will notice is if there is ever a downturn in the economy, we tend to receive more resumes and more inquiries about, ‘Are we hiring?’”
According to Dunlap, the general negative media portrayal of law enforcement and low starting salaries are detrimental to getting new recruits with his department.
“Why would anybody want to be in law enforcement right now, especially for the pay that law enforcement gets paid, ... where your life can be in peril?” Dunlap said. “There is a lot of negative stress. Why would you want to get into that for $50,000?”
Dunlap said his department was recently able to get one recruit, but he sees needing additional personnel to cover shifts within the next five years as the city continues to grow and the need for additional officers increases.
“In the past when we were one of the highest-paid agencies around, we would have 30-50 applicants [for positions],” he said. “Now, we are getting one or two applicants. .... The last few hires we have done are just cadets with no experience. It is good to get that, but we need mature officers to help mold those new officers coming in.”Libby said recruitment efforts at Oak Ridge North include sending out flyers to the police officers’ association, putting out ads on the department’s website and sending officers to area academies to speak about their department.
“We have had some pretty good success doing that,” Libby said. “The two [new officers] that I have right now were in an academy class.”
Dunlap said getting the salary adjustment was his one big request for the upcoming fiscal year, which received support from the City Council in the form of a $265,000 increase to the fiscal year 2021-22 budget, according to Finance Director Lisa Wasner. The new starting salary will be close to $6,000 higher than the previous year.The last time the starting pay for Shenandoah police was adjusted was in 2018, when it was raised from $46,587 to $51,824, where it remained in 2020-21. Oak Ridge North’s pay has increased over the past five years, going from $52,937 in 2016 to $59,073 in 2021.
Feeling the effects
Dunlap said an issue with getting new recruits, particularly those who just graduated from a law enforcement academy, is they are unable to take full shifts for around six months while they complete their training.
“Regardless of their training, when somebody comes here, we put them through an officer readiness program,” Dunlap said. “We have a few weeks of that before they hit the street to begin their training. ... That takes 14-16 weeks.”
With the size of Shenandoah’s police department, Dunlap said losing even one officer is detrimental because all the officer shifts may need to be adjusted due to a lack of available overtime funds in the department.Libby said if an officer leaves Oak Ridge North, it causes a shortage, and the department feels the change, but officers have access to overtime to make up for it.
“Over the past five years, [other agencies] know what brings people in are the salaries,” Dunlap said. “They have been moving everybody up, ... and we stayed stagnant. Because we stayed stagnant, that hurt us.”
Information from Shenandoah indicates the new pay scale adjustment is the largest budgetary increase for the year in the 2021-22 budget. The budget was approved Sept. 8.