HARRISBURG, PA – When police officers are hired in the city of Harrisburg, they earn about the same as officers from nearby municipalities.
But the parity quickly ends.
Within a few years, officers in many suburbs are making $10,000 or more per year than city officers.
In Susquehanna Township, for example, officers with five-years’ experience make $77,775, which exceeds the top amount paid to officers in the city with 25 years’ experience ($70,728.)
That’s why city officers are tempted at times to take their experience and leave for a higher paying job elsewhere. The city, then, is left with a revolving door of young officers and a growing tab of training expenses.
To try to stem that tide, Harrisburg added a few provisions to the latest police union contract, including bonuses and a unique claw back provision that would force officers who leave the city within five years to pay back some of their training costs.
The four-year contract was recently approved by police union members by an 89-7 vote. The contract still must win city council approval.
The contract promises bonuses of $1,500 annually for three years for current employees. All employees will get half-percent raises twice per year for the first two years, then one-percent raises annually after that.
Money for the bonuses came from salary savings from vacant police officer positions in 2016, said Mayor Eric Papenfuse.
The contract also allows officers to reach their highest earning potential for the rank faster by reducing the number of salary steps to get there. It used to take five steps to achieve the top officer pay, but now it will take only four.
“Moving up the ladder a year early, That should help,” with officer retention, said Detective Jason Brinker, the Harrisburg police union president.
The claw back provision would charge officers $1,000 per year, up to five years (and up to $5,000) if they leave the city for another police officer job. The claw back would not be invoked if officers decide to leave the law enforcement profession and pursue a different career.
Another perk added for officers: they get to take a vacation day on their birthday. That is a perk that had been previously extended to firefighters and now police officers will get the extra vacation day as well.
The contract provides the city with “four years of labor peace,” Papenfuse said, noting that the city was extremely limited in what it could offer given the constraints of the city’s financial recovery plan.
Brinker said officers didn’t get the kind of raises they’d like to make their salaries more competitive with area agencies, but officers understand the limitations of Act 47, he said.
“We were able to do a little more in creative ways to stay within the parameters of Act 47, such as the bonuses,” Brinker said.
The bonuses are allowed because they are temporary and aren’t baked into future budgets with extra costs in benefits.
City officials previously approved a two-year contract with AFSCME union workers (civilian employees) that gave them $1,00 annual bonuses and 1 percent raises annually.