Vicksburg police to be highest paid in state on Oct. 1

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 6, 2001

[9/06/2001]Vicksburg’s starting police officers will be the state’s best paid in October, making $8,000 a year more than today and as much as local school teachers with 25 years on the job.

“I want to create an extremely competitive environment where officers in the region are competing to get into our department,” Mayor Laurence Leyens said.

Mississippi Municipal League figures show the Starkville Police Department, where wages start at $28,256 a year, are today’s highest paid.

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The $29.4 million budget approved Tuesday by the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Alderman sets starting base wages for police at $32,422. With allocated overtime, a starting officer will make $35,500 a year after the budget kicks in Oct. 1.

The new Vicksburg base figure is $10,000 more than Jackson and $900 less than Dallas offers new hires.

A first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree in the Vicksburg Warren School District is making $24,740 this year. According to the VWSD scale, to make the new starting pay for a police officer, that same teacher would have to work 25 years.

On the MML list of police departments, Vicksburg has been seventh in the state with a starting wage of about $24,581 per year, although officers have been making more with overtime.

Pay for Vicksburg Fire Department, which also starts at $24,581, is not changing.

Leyens said that before the new pay rate for police officers will go into effect, the city board along with the police chief will have to determine a pay scale extending through the department. Regardless, he said Vicksburg will have the best pay.

Leyens also said that does not mean every officer now on the 100-officer force will get major raises. “I want to reward the people who are doing a good job,” Leyens said. “I don’t want to just give across-the-board raises.”

Vicksburg Police Chief Mitchell Dent said he expects to attract better candidates and to raise the education requirements to include a four-year college degree. Currently, the department requires 40 hours of college.

“With the new salaries we’re going to be attracting people with college degrees who otherwise might be considering the FBI,” Dent said.

In approving their first budget unanimously, the new city administration left property tax rates level.

Warren County supervisors, however, raised rates slightly to add four sheriff’s deputies and pay county law enforcement officers more.

Supervisors approved a $33.6 million budget that includes a $2,000 per year raise for deputies. The current starting salaries for road deputies is $22,200.

Sheriff Martin Pace said that while the raises will help with recruitment, he expects to lose some officers to the new pay for Vicksburg police officers.

“I feel certain that it will have an effect,” Pace said.

While the county is increasing the number of deputies on the road, the city plans to reduce its total number of police officers from 100 to 80. Leyens said the number will be reduced by attrition.

The budget for the police department was cut from $7.1 million to $5.5 million. The majority of that will come from a $1.4 million cut in police payroll.

In addition to that, city officials plan to spend $415,000 for an Auto Vehicle Locator system for the police department.

The AVL features devices that beam the precise locations of police cars to global positioning satellites. Leyens said he expects the city will lose some officers over the tracking system.

“I’m willing to lose every single officer to get to the very best,” Leyens said.

Dent said that although some officers were leery when first introduced to the “big brother,” he did not expect to lose many. He said that any officers doing their job should have no problem with the AVL.

“If you’re a person who comes to work and does your job, all this is going to do is help you do your job,” Dent said.

Pace said the system the city is looking at for the police department would be useful to the Sheriff’s Department, but not practical on the county budget.

“It’s a great management tool,” Pace said. But, “there are a lot of other things we need first.”