SOUTH BEND, IN — Citing the need to remain competitive with other departments and retain officers on an already depleted force, city officials received the Board of Public Safety’s approval for a temporary pay increase for South Bend police officers.
Presenting the resolution at Wednesday’s Board of Public Safety meeting, Mayor James Mueller said the mid-year increase is not related to COVID-19, but is meant to combat a double-digit shortage of officers on the force.
“We need to make sure we have the right environment and the right compensation to make sure that we’re able to staff our public safety departments,” Mueller said.
The resolution requests a 2.5% pay increase for the rest of 2020 for all sworn South Bend officers, and includes increased financial incentives for officers to live inside city limits. Under the current police contract, officers who live within the city of South Bend receive a $400 bonus per year. The resolution would increase that incentive to $2,500 for 2020.
Sgt. Harvey Mills, president of the South Bend Fraternal Order of Police, said the pay increase is a good way to keep officers from looking at other departments in the state that currently offer higher salaries, like Carmel or Elkhart.
The increases would take effect June 15, though the resolution still has to be approved by the Common Council, as it would have to amend an ordinance which fixes officer salaries. Mueller said the measure would not require additional funding to the department because of the current shortfall of officers compared to the budgeted amount.
According to South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski, South Bend is budgeted for 243 officers, but the department currently has only 225 sworn officers and two longtime members of the force were approved for retirement at Wednesday’s meeting, bringing the effective strength down to 223. Three new officers are scheduled to be sworn in next month and six other recruits are waiting to start academy training.
Mueller also noted a third of South Bend’s office are eligible for retirement, which could put a further drain on numbers in the department.
Before the pay increase goes into effect, South Bend officers make $49,058 per year as a recruit, which jumps to $54,122 once the recruit is sworn in and $60,341 once they reach patrolman 1st class.
The proposed increase would affect only the rest of 2020. Because the FOP’s contract with the city expires at the end of this year, police salaries in 2021 and beyond will be determined by future negotiations. Mueller said he hopes to continue providing incentives for South Bend employees, not just police officers, to live in the city to boost the city’s economy.
“By state law we can’t mandate that city employees live in the city, but we certainly can incentivize it,” Mueller said. “This is something I’d like to see more broadly across the city.”
Mills said a small percentage of officers live in the city because of safety concerns, but he believes a more substantial residency incentive could draw more officers back to South Bend.
“I’ve actually spoken with a couple of officers that said that would push them to move back to the city,” Mills said. “The FOP would like to see more officers within city limits, but we certainly understand why many don’t.”
St. Joseph County Sheriff Bill Redman has asked for a temporary pay increase for county officers because of hazardous conditions related to the coronavirus. Mills said the South Bend FOP is not currently planning to ask for coronavirus-related hazard pay.