Recruiting police officers is a nationwide problem, and both Tomball and Magnolia police departments have been affected by the trend, department chiefs said.
If salary and benefits packages are not comparable to similar departments, it takes a toll on recruitment and retention for the departments, Tomball Police Department Chief Billy Tidwell said.
Magnolia Police Department Chief Terry Enloe said the benefits packages for his department are not on par with similar departments—although salary offerings are similar—which makes recruitment and retention more difficult.
At the Oct. 9 Magnolia City Council meeting, Enloe said the department had lost two police officers in the last four months to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office due to the retirement and insurance packages MCSO offers.
“Our health insurance is a whole lot more expensive [than MCSO]because we’re a smaller municipality, so it costs more, particularly for families,” Enloe said. “The last guy that left went from paying almost half his paycheck for his family’s insurance to $70 with Montgomery County. It’s like a pay raise.”
Enloe said he is working with Mayor Todd Kana, City Administrator Paul Mendes and City Council members to improve the retirement and insurance packages for the police department.
Magnolia currently matches retirement deposits at a rate of 1-to-1, but Enloe said he plans to increase it to a 2.5-1 match at the start of 2019. Enloe said he also hopes to improve the department’s health insurance premiums—currently totaling about $700 per month for children to be added to an employee’s plan—in October 2019 when a new budget year begins for the city.
“It makes a big difference, particularly when you’ve got a family,” he said.
Tidwell said employee insurance costs are about $68-$91 per month for an employee and children in Tomball.
Despite the challenges to recruitment and retention in Magnolia, Lt. Kyle Montgomery said he believes losing one or two officers does not have a significant effect on the safety of the Magnolia community.
“We’ve never seen any spikes in crime, even when we were four officers short last year,” Montgomery said in an email. “The financial loss of being a training ground for better-paying agencies is where it hurts us the most.”
The city of Magnolia approved $809,652 for police department salaries in fiscal year 2018-19, an increase of $55,940 from the approved amount in FY 2017-18, according to city documents.
Officers in Magnolia earn an annual salary between $43,400 and $50,600 for those with less than one year of experience, while the same position earns between $44,260 and $59,881 in Tomball, city budgets show.
Tidwell said the Tomball Police Department loses about five or six officers per year, but turnover is expected in any law enforcement agency.
“We have a package that is attractive,” Tidwell said. “Are we at the very top? No. Are we at the very bottom? No. But we are competitive.”