‘It’s Tough’By ANTHONY WARREN,
Low pay translates into low numbers for Jackson police
The capital city continues to hemorrhage police officers, something interim Police Chief James Davis said is a direct result of low pay.
The Jackson Police Department (JPD) has approximately 335 sworn officers, well short of the 418 allowed for in the current year budget, and nearly 50 fewer than the agency had last summer.
Even with the shortage, all beats and all shifts remain covered, with officers working double duty and other manpower being reassigned as needed.
The department has trouble keeping officers once they’re trained, because they can go to higher-paying law enforcement positions in other cities and states, Davis said.
JPD also loses personnel to local hospitals, where they can make more working security.
“It’s tough when you see hospitals pay more than what officers on the street are paid,” he said. “We must pay for talent.”
Starting pay for recruits at the Jackson Police Officers Training Academy is $25,900 a year. Six months after graduating, pay is increased to $26,375, and after a year, salaries are increased to around $31,000.
The next pay raise is at 10 years, when officers who are not promoted earn the automatic rank of “corporal,” and receive an additional raise.
Officers do not receive annual cost-of-living increases, Davis said.
By comparison, campus police at the University of Mississippi Medical Center earn between $30,000 and $43,000 a year, while salaries for officers at Jackson State University make between $27,000 and $35,000 annually, according to the job website Simply Hired.
Jackson officers make slightly less than their counterparts in cities of similar size as well.
Starting salaries for patrolmen in Mobile is $31,679 for new recruits. Six months after graduating from the academy, pay is increased to $36,679, according to that city’s Web site.
In Shreveport, officers earn $27,455 in the academy and amount that increases to $34,650 upon completion. After one year, officers receive an addition $500 in supplemental pay for the state, the city’s Web site states.
Jackson has approximately 167,000 residents, compared to 192,000 in Shreveport, 190,000 in Mobile and 199,000 in Little Rock, U.S. Census figures show.
Shreveport and Little Rock approved pay raises for law enforcement officers as part of their 2018 budgets and the city of Mobile has increased officer pay since 2014.
Davis said officers often supplement their incomes by working overtime and moonlighting as security guards elsewhere.
This year, the city set aside about $1.3 million to cover overtime expenses. He said most, if not all of that budget, has already been exhausted with two months remaining in the budget year.
“(Overtime’s) great for the officers, but bad for the budget, because you have to pay time and a half.”
Scientific studies said working overtime or second jobs can increase officer fatigue, effecting their performance on the job.
“Fatigue may do more than affect the way officers perform routine tasks such as maneuvering a patrol car ... it can (also) influence their ability to exercise good judgment,” according to an October 2017 report from Governing.com.
Davis said the department limits officers to working only two shifts, or 16 hours per day and has other safeguards in place to protect their safety.
“If they’re working too much, we’ll tell them to go home and get some rest,” Davis said. “We will deny them from working overtime. We have supervisors who monitor this on a consistent basis.”
Officer Paul Hobson, president of the Jackson Police Officers Association, said shortages are a problem not only in Jackson, but across the state and country. He credits the lack of manpower not only to money, but also the public criticism officers face.
“Law enforcement officers are not wealthy. They’re subjected to a wide range of criticism and are choosing different career paths,” Hobson said. “People can make more money elsewhere and be subject to less criticism.”
According to a 2017 report from Pew Research, officers believe much of that criticism comes from the media. The report stated that 81 percent of officers “say the media generally treat the police unfairly … About four in ten officers (42 percent) strongly agree that the media are unfair to police.”
In 2016, the Little Rock Police Department told KARK.com that the public perception of police has caused recruit applications to dwindle. However, earlier this year, local media in the Arkansas city reported that the department had begun to close the gap.
And in June 2018, the National Police Support Fund, a national police advocacy group, said larger cities like Boston and Seattle are struggling to bring in recruits.
“The increasing dangers of the job and high-profile negative press stories have both contributed to the shortage of new police recruits,” the Web site states. “Many potential recruits have simply decided to abandon a career” in law enforcement as a result.
The group recommends a “commonsense” approach to reduce shortages by increasing pay and offering signing bonuses and other incentives.”
Increasing pay in Jackson could be difficult, though.
Last year, former Police Chief Lee Vance asked the council to consider a 2.5 percent pay raise, citing a shrinking force. For an officer on the job one year, the raise would have equated to about $775 a year. At the time, the increases would have cost the city about $492,000, or about 1.4 percent of the department’s 2018 budget.
However, the raises were denied, with the city having to raise property taxes to balance the budget.
Davis is looking into several options to increase pay, including reducing the number of budgeted officers and using the funds that would be set aside for those positions to increase pay salaries across the board.
“Say we’re budgeted for 418 officers. If we can (reduce that) to 380, I would like to take the rest of the money and invest it in the officers we already have,” he said. “We must do something.”