No Relief

By ANTHONY WARREN,

No raise again for beleaguered Jackson Police Department.

Jackson has lost 86 police officers in the last year. Even so, a pay raise likely won’t be on tap for Jackson’s finest as part of next year’s budget.

The Jackson City Council is expected to vote on the city’s 2020 fiscal year budget today, Thursday, September 12.

In that budget, the Jackson Police Department (JPD) is asking for $37,097,794, about $24,000 less than the current year.

Funds will be used to pay for two officer recruit classes, including the one that is expected to wrap up by the end of the month, as well as purchase additional body cameras and equipment for officer use.

In all, the budget includes salaries for 402 officers, the same as 2019.

However, the budget does not include a much-needed increase in officer salary, a fact that at least one city council member blames on Jackson’s water billing crisis.

“The overarching problem is that we’re flat because we have to loan money from the general fund to water and sewer,” said Ward Two Councilman Melvin Priester, the council’s finance committee chairman.

In the next year, the council is expected to allocate between $6 million and $7 million in general fund monies to help shore up the water and sewer enterprise fund, which continues to run short on revenues.

Regardless the cause, some council members wonder if the lack of pay raises is causing the department to lose officers.

This year, JPD lost 104 personnel. Of those, 86 were sworn law enforcement officers. Seventeen of those officers retired, 10 went to other departments in state and out of state, and one became police chief at Hinds Community College. Another six individuals were terminated, while others resigned before they could be terminated.

Jackson has replaced 50 of those officers, still leaving a net loss of 36.

Council members, like Priester, believe pay is a major reason officers are leaving or opting for retirement. Starting salary for officers is $25,900. After one year, pay is bumped up to $31,037. Officers do not receive cost of living increases, and the next raise comes after 10 years, when rank-in-file officers who have not been promoted are automatically made “corporals.” 

By comparison, officers going to other agencies can make significantly more money. Starting pay with the Madison and Ridgeland police departments are $33,500 and $32,489 respectively.

Out-of-state departments also pay more. In Mobile and Shreveport, two cities similar in size to Jackson, starting pay is $31,679 and $33,000 respectively. Larger cities like Houston and Dallas offer salaries beginning at $49,900 and $60,000.

Adding to the problem, a large number of JPD’s force is eligible for state retirement.

Those officers are part of what is referred to as the “Ditto Class,” the group of officers that came in under former Mayor Kane Ditto.

Ditto served in the position from 1989 to 1997, during which time a large number of officers were brought onto the force. Any officer brought on in 1994 or earlier is now eligible to retire. Next year, officers brought on in 1995 will be eligible to receive full retirement benefits.

“Those were the largest classes that the city brought in recent memory,” Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said. “The expectation is that we will … see many of them leave.”

To combat this, the department has stepped up recruiting efforts. JPD also has scheduled back-to-back recruit classes at the Jackson Police Training Academy.

The current crop of recruits are expected to graduate in September, with a new class expected to begin in October.

Chief James Davis, a member of the Ditto Class now able to retire, told the council the department has “developed an aggressive recruitment team” to canvass the city for potential officers. Team members have gone to the Jackson Medical Mall, area universities and other public events to recruit police.

The department also touts being able to offer officers some of the best equipment available to do their jobs.

“We have new equipment, updated equipment that we are talking about,” he said. “A lot of these young individuals are encouraged about having a body camera, a taser – things we never had – to protect our citizens and protect our officers.

“We have new vehicles. They’re very excited about that.”

The department purchased the body cameras last year with the help of a federal grant. About $322,000 in city dollars were used for the local match.

The funds came from a $500,000 allocation set aside in the department last year to provide officers with performance-based bonuses.

The program was never implemented, in part, because the administration was unsure if it could pay bonuses with state money.

The administration was also concerned that any bonuses awarded would be considered salary, meaning the city would have to contribute more to the state retirement system based on bonus pay.

The city did not set aside funds in last year’s budget to cover any extra contributions.

The budget will go into effect October 1, the start of the fiscal year, and will cover spending from that date until September 30, 2020.

Davis and JPD spokesman Roderick Holmes couldn’t be reached for comment.

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1. He drove a blue ‘77 Chevy Nova in high school. 2. He played on Jackson Prep’s 1985 and 1986 state championship basketball teams.