A growing shortage of officers at the Fairbanks Police Department is expected to have imminent but unknown repercussions on patrols and operations.
That’s according to Fairbanks Communications Director Teal Soden, who detailed the effect of unfilled openings in conjunction with anticipated retirements.
The department has 46 authorized and commissioned officers, including the chief, all supervisors and detectives.
Seven positions are unfilled, but that number will grow this spring and summer as four officers, including chief Eric Jewkes, are expected to retire.
“Eleven positions out of 46 is very significant, and the situation is definitely one that the community should be paying attention to,” Soden stated via text message Thursday.
Additionally, the officers expected to leave hold supervisory roles with ranks of sergeant or above.
“We’re losing some very highly experienced guys and we don’t expect to fill all the positions,” Soden said via telephone.
Four of the expected 11 vacancies will remain unfunded through at least 2019 under terms of a new three-year contract approved in March.
Soden said seven of the vacancies can be filled.
Police spokeswoman Yumi McCulloch noted that officer shortages are not exclusive to FPD.
“It’s a nationwide problem, and we just are trying to do the best we can with recruitment,” McCulloch said.
“There’s going to need to be some creative ideas in order to get folks here.”
Retiring officers are expected to have a large impact on patrols and operations because patrol officers will need to be promoted to fill those supervisory positions.
Soden stated it’s difficult to immediately understand the impact of retiring officers because it will depend on how and when promotions are given.
A dedicated downtown patrol is not currently in the plans for this summer, but Deputy Chief Dan Welborn is “working on a plan to try and have a guy go down there a lot,” Soden said.
Staff shortages at FPD are not a new problem. In 2016, then-police chief Randall Aragon said the department was “in crisis mode” because of an officer shortage.
Chief Jewkes in 2017 speculated that the force wouldn’t be fully staffed until 2020. At the time the department was also down 11 officers.
FPD may have one less recruit impediment moving forward. After years of court battles, the Fairbanks City Council in March approved a contract with the union representing police and dispatch for the first time since 2013.
The contract increased the city’s contribution to monthly health care premiums and created pay raises for officers between years eight and 20 at the department. Previously, pay raises after year seven were only given as part of contract updates.
Shortages at Fairbanks Police Department have also prompted the city to offer bonuses for lateral-hire recruits, meaning they have credentials recognized by the Alaska Police Standard Council.
FPD offers a one-time bonus to officers that join the force if they meet the APSC standards. Four officers have been given a $20,000 bonus, and one received a $5,000 bonus in the earlier stages of the program, said Human Resources Director Angela Foster-Snow.
Of the five officers who have received lateral hire bonuses, two had previously worked at FPD, but Foster-Snow said they had been off the force for some time.
“It wasn’t like they left and just came back,” she said.
FPD officers who recruit a lateral hire are also eligible for $5,000 bonuses.
Because of dispatch shortages at the Emergency Communications Center, the council is considering an ordinance that would offer a $15,000 bonus for lateral hires that meet Dispatch Academy qualifications.
The ordinance, which is up for second reading at the council’s April 22 meeting, states that three vacancies are in dispatch and that it costs a minimum of $18,562 to send an employee through the academy.