We need more police officers, so why doesn’t the City hire them?
We’re among the least safe cities in America. We’ve got one of the highest crime rates in the country. I’ve held a dozen listening sessions throughout District 14 for the last two months, and our need for more police officers ranks as one of the top two priorities consistently. Every neighborhood I’ve been to, every resident I’ve talked with, has expressed the exact same frustration: Why don’t we hire more police officers?
I don’t know. I don’t know why we don’t discuss this problem for an hour at every council meeting. I don’t know why we’re talking about pocket bikes in our Public Safety Committee meetings for two hours and not focusing on a long-term PLAN to hire more officers and make our city safer. I do know that I’m frustrated.
Here’s what I have been told: We’ve got a “plan” to hire a net of 50 additional officers a year for the next several years. To get that additional net of 50, we’ve got to hire 250 (we lose 200 a year due to attrition — retiring, firing, resigning, etc.). To get 250 qualified police officers, we have to sift through about 2,500 applicants.
I’ve asked our Police Chief, other councilmembers, and our City Manager why we’re only hiring 50 net new officers a year. Why not 600 or more? I’ve been given various reasons: We can’t recruit more than 250 qualified applicants AND/OR our DPD can’t “assimilate” more than 250 new officers a year AND/OR our DPD can’t put more than that many new officers through training.
Somehow, though, the discussion seems to end there. Here’s the problem I have with that: The question doesn’t end there, it starts there. The obvious next question is WHY can’t we recruit more than 250 new officers a year? WHY can’t we assimilate more than that, and WHY can’t we expand our training facilities/trainers/equipment to accept more recruits?
I haven’t gotten satisfactory answers to these questions, but one of the responses I’ve heard about recruiting is that it comes back to money. Apparently, we don’t pay our new officers (years one through five) enough compared to surrounding cities. And it seems to me, we’d not only have to be on par with our neighboring cities, we’d have to pay a little more to make up for some morale issues that continue to linger. From what I understand, officers in years seven or better are doing well financially. Pay and benefits are GREAT. It’s the young officers that aren’t making enough money. So, the most obvious solution in my mind is PAY OUR YOUNG OFFICERS MORE MONEY. Better pay equals more, better-qualified recruits.
But there’s a problem: A lawsuit.
Back in 1979 there was a police pay referendum. Voters passed it, giving the police a raise. But there are some former police officers who have sued the City, claiming that the referendum meant that the city was supposed to “lock step” officer pay raises forever and ever. So if you give a year-one officer a $10,000 raise, you’ve got to pay a year-two officer $10,000 more, all the way up the chain of command. Incredibly expensive and unnecessary: Year-seven and above, they don’t need the same exact pay raise that new recruits need. But that issue is being litigated right now, and frankly, I don’t see an end in sight.
So does that mean that we can’t increase the pay for officers years one through six? I don’t think so, but I also don’t agree with the interpretation of the 1979 pay referendum. I say we do whatever we need to do to get more officers, and if that means we “violate” this imaginary restriction that’s keeping us from increasing police pay, so be it.
I’ve asked city staff to research the following: Pay scales for Dallas Police compared to surrounding cities, including benefits packages. When do our officers leave and why (already completed)? How much would it cost to increase police pay for years-one through -five to be comparable with surrounding cities? There are also some other things I am researching that I can’t discuss now.
Here is my challenge to you. Help me develop a plan to increase our police force by at least 600 officers. A pay increase is one idea. We could eliminate City of Dallas property taxes for officers. We could help police officers purchase homes in Dallas.
I need your help to expand this list. Got ideas from other cities? I want to hear them. I would also really like your opinion on the pay referendum issue.
But first, let me tell you some of the the things the city IS doing to try to get more officers:
In the Spring, the DPD began allowing 4 years active military service in lieu of college requirements in the hopes of getting more recruits. The DPD has also doubled its recruiting staff this year, to 12, and is taking the following steps to develop a formalized recruiting program: