To attract and retain police officers, the Warsaw Common Council approved on first reading an ordinance amending the 2021 police salary ordinance to increase the base patrol officer biweekly wage.
The second and final reading will be at the Council’s May 17 meeting.
Mayor Joe Thallemer said, “One of the initiatives I mentioned in this year’s State of the City focused on concerns we face as a city to hire qualified police officers. All law enforcement agencies find themselves competing with other jurisdictions for a relatively small pool of qualified applicants. Our shortage is accentuated locally by growth, annexation, creating a decrease in service area and increase traffic concerns on U.S. 30.”
Feeling the impact of increasing wages and competing agencies, he said he asked the Council’s wage committee to address the problem and create competitive department wages. The committee has addressed similar problems in other departments, but now is focused on concerns with the Warsaw Police Department, he said. “Police are having an increasingly difficult time finding qualified applicants,” Thallemer said.
“Given the immediate concerns with hiring new police officers, I asked the committee to initiate this proposal to show our commitment to increase the base patrol wage, which will improve our competitiveness to attract new recruits and solidify our department wages for meaningful motivation to career advancement opportunities,” he said.
Warsaw Human Resource Director Jennifer Whitaker said the ordinance requires two readings, with the second one set for May 17. “As Mayor Thallemer was explaining, this ordinance is just a means to recruit police officers for the city of Warsaw. And hopefully the beginning steps to recognize and retain our current officers,” she said.
If the ordinance passes a second time at the May 17 meeting, Whitaker said Clerk-Treasurer Lynne Christiansen will have to recertify the base patrol officer’s wage to the pension. When that happens, and it’s OK’d, she said the recruitment campaign can occur for new and lateral transfers within the WPD.
Thallemer said the base patrol increase is 10% of the base patrol salary. Whitaker said that was correct and came out “to about $200 a pay for the increase.” She said she and the committee – Councilmen Jeff Grose, Diane Quance and Cindy Dobbins – looked at all the date they collected and “we found that Warsaw was really behind, lagging in our base patrol officer wage for the recruitment and retaining of our officers. And that’s where we wanted to focus the amount on.”
The ordinance states the maximum biweekly wage, effective June 27, 2021, for the base patrol officer would be $2,200.64.
Dobbins said, “We did look at several different communities. Some of our size, some larger, some smaller. And it was quite an eye opener to see that we weren’t really measuring up to the task in what we were (paying) our base patrol officers. And knowing also that we have difficult time hiring people, and I think that’s just not Warsaw, I think that’s everywhere because of the nationwide attitude and everything now. I just felt like, once we really delved into it, we just had to really make this effort.”
Grose said he thought the ordinance would benefit the department and the community.
“One of the things that the committee was unanimous on was that as we make a commitment to our officers and provide a top-notch training, we are also going to be asking for a commitment from those officers, which will be spread out over their first five years of service and involve graduated pay that, for training costs incurred by the city. And one of the things that we found is our guys – I think we have the best training department around, and other law enforcement agencies will acknowledge that. They want our officers because they know they are very well trained,” Quance said. “What was happening was we were losing our good, beginning officers that other departments were offering them more as a starting wage once we got them trained. And so, as we make a commitment to them, we’re also asking for a commitment in return from them, that they’ll stick with us.”
Dobbins said there are funds in the budget for the police salary ordinance amendment.
Councilman Josh Finch asked, “Was there discussion around any other reason why somebody might leave besides wages?” He said he’d hate for the Council to implement the wage increase and then find out there is another reason maybe why an officer would be enticed to move on.
Whitaker responded, “I hope not because when I do my exit interviews, when I can get them to have frank dialogue with me, it is, ‘Hey, somebody is going to pay me a couple thousand dollars more.’ … We offer excellent benefits. We have a top-notch training department. … People headhunt our officers once they’ve got two or three years in. … They’re trained and ready to go, and it is a loss. It truly is a loss. They’re throwing money at them.”
Police Chief Scott Whitaker said the contract they worked on with city attorney Scott Reust will help with that.
Quance made a motion to approve the ordinance, Dobbins seconded it and it was approved 7-0 on first reading.