Facing an ongoing shortage of police officers and dispatchers in town, the Turlock City Council took steps Tuesday night to make the city a more attractive destination for potential new hirers to the tune of $16,000.
The Turlock City Council voted unanimously to offer $16,000 signing bonuses to those individuals who are qualified and willing to join the Turlock Police Department.
“Turlock is a great department to work for, but we need to be aggressive with recruiting new officers and retaining our current officers,” said Mayor Gary Soiseth. “We’ve restored crucial specialized assignments to strengthen the department’s appeal to new recruits, but it’s apparent that we need to make it financially more attractive to recruit and maintain the best talent.”
The City Council approved the salary bonuses after hearing from Turlock Police Chief and what he described as an impending “calamity” for the city if the department cannot successfully recruit and retain police officers.
The Police department is allocated to staff 78 sworn positions, but currently only has 73 positions filled, which includes the chief and two captains. The department has been embarking on an ambitious recruiting program, but as new officers are coming in, others are leaving, so the department has made no real gains over the last two years.
In 2016, the department had 462 people apply for a sworn position and hired 5. That same year two sworn officers left the department. In 2017, there were 472 people who applied and six were hired, while six others departed.
Within dispatch, the department had 209 applicants in 2016, resulting in four hires, but three others left. In 2017, there were 306 people applying for jobs, with four hired and four others departing.
“We are at a critical stage,” Amirfar said. “We have to stop the bleeding.”
The Turlock Police Department has a stellar reputation for background checks and training and Amirfar said he is unwilling to compromise anything in those areas. What he said the department needs to do is make it more appealing to prospective employees, especially those that might come from other law enforcement agencies.
It is not just Turlock that has a problem recruiting officers, and as such signing bonuses, like the ones approved a Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, are the industry standard and an avenue Amirfar wants the department to explore.
“We have to stay competitive and level the playing field,” Amirfar said.
The signing bonus will be offered for six positions Amirfar hopes to fill in dispatch and with sworn officers. The individuals hired would get $11,000 at the start of their time with the department and another $5,000 when they reach their fifth year with the department. The exact language of the deal is still being worked up by the City Attorney.
While the signing bonuses should help with recruitment, the city needs to take more steps to retaining officers once they join the department, said Brandon Bertram, the president of the Turlock Associated Police Officers. Bertram pointed to a 2016 study that showed the Turlock Police Department’s salary structure was 25 percent behind the median salary of other like-sized agencies.
“And they’ve had salary increases that have been greater than what we have had here in Turlock, so we are even further behind,” Bertram said.
The Turlock Police Department’s salary for the highest step an officer can get is behind almost every other agency in the area. While sometimes the amount is minimal, like the $14 more an officer in Ceres makes, other times it is substantial, like the $3,433 more a month an officer makes in Manteca.
“Some of our officers are staying here out of love for the community, but that is only going to last so long,” Amirfar said.
The City Council did not take any action regarding salaries because the issue is part of labor negotiations.