Stacy Rogers has done the math.
Had the city not frozen the Richmond Police Department’s raises in 2008 and discontinued its career advancement program in 2009 for lack of funding, he’d be making $12,000 more each year by now. Instead, the nine-year veteran and the rest of the city’s police and firefighters have gone years without substantial pay raises or the opportunity to earn them, while City Council and the mayor’s office have shelved the program budget cycle after budget cycle. Even after council expressed support for the program this past May, delays arose in the form of botched budget numbers.
What has resulted is frustration, lower morale, and ultimately, turnover, says Rogers, who serves as president of the Richmond Coalition of Police, a union with membership upwards of 260 RPD officers.
“If I’m a young police officer and I could leave and get a $6,000 raise in Henrico to start, why wouldn’t I leave and go to Henrico? Why wouldn’t I?” he says. “People aren’t leaving because they don’t like the city. At some point, the rubber hits the road and bills have to be paid.”
Aside from the effect on stability, the turnover is substantial for what Rogers calls “money walking out the door.” Each academy recruit costs the city $100,000 to train. Twenty-eight recruits graduated from the academy in August. Retaining them is the only thing that brings a return on investment for the city, he reasons.
Although Richmond police recruits stand to gain more on-job experience than an officer learning the ropes in the counties (because there’s more crime in the city), the counties offer more money, Rogers says.
In spite of the six to 12 months of paperwork, background checks and tests it takes to switch departments, younger officers increasingly see law-enforcement positions in Henrico, Chesterfield, Ashland, Hanover or Goochland as better options in the long run, Rogers says.
“A significant number of people are leaving because they don’t feel they’ve been compensated,” Rogers says. “Really the bigger fear is that they don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Refunding the department’s career advancement program, which provides pay incentives to the city’s police and firefighters to improve their professional skills, could help the city retain those younger officers, Rogers believes. It’s the career development program combined with time served that allows police to attain the $80,000 maximum salary advertised on RPD’s website.
City Council discussed an ordinance related to the matter at its Sept. 8 meeting, but voted to continue the measure until its November meeting. The ordinance would use $566,000 budgeted in May for career development to pay out one-time bonuses to the city’s fire and police departments.
Rogers, speaking at the meeting on behalf of the police union, said the ordinance would harm the department more than help it. He, and some council members, want the money put toward partially funding the career advancement program for the remainder of this fiscal year.
Councilman Parker Agelasto, 5th district, supports partially reinstating the program and possibly using a portion of the city’s surplus to fully fund it until the next fiscal year. Doing so would cost an additional $800,000. He says a majority of council members support reinstating the program, but doing so isn’t in line with what Mayor Dwight Jones’ administration wants.
“Obviously [the city] has a lot of needs, but this is our fire and police. I believe we need to take action today,” Agelasto says. “Maybe we just need to reinstate career development even if that’s something the administration does not prefer.”
Tammy Hawley, the mayor’s press secretary, wrote in an email that Jones supports career development being available for police and firefighters. The mayor “is open to the adjustments that are necessary” to find funding for the program, she adds.