Retention key to effective law enforcement

Published 10:50 am Monday, April 14, 2014

Vicksburg Police Department added seven more police officers to its staff to help protect the city recently.
The trainees completed 12 weeks of intense training at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Training Academy in Pearl this month. The new hires started their first week on the job as part of a ten-week field-training program given by VPD. If they successfully complete the program, they will be allowed to patrol the city on their own.
Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong pointed out how rare it is for every trainee to successful complete the process of becoming an officer.
“It’s unusual for us to send that many to training and all of them graduate. That’s a testament to the hiring process that we now have in place.”
Retention now becomes the focus of both the VPD and Warren County Sheriff’s Office.
Martin Pace has been arguing for increased salaries for his deputies, especially for entry level positions over the last several years. In making the argument he is following a script right out of management 101. Basic management principles say that it is easier and cheaper to pay and retain the employees you already have than to pay the costs associated with recruiting and training new employees.
Vicksburg and Warren County, like other cities and counties throughout the state and nation, is undergoing typical budget hiccups — never quite enough money for all the needs of every department — but something must be done to keep qualified law enforcement on staff.
It is expensive to train personnel only to see them leave after a few years for better paying jobs elsewhere. Lower salaries create a number of significant issues. Low entry level salaries make it difficult to attract quality recruits. Where there are better pay options available, the more highly sought after recruits will seek those avenues, foregoing any opportunities they may have here.
Low pay for more experienced officers though creates the most significant hurdle. By not sufficiently paying officers with several years of experience the taxpayers of Vicksburg and Warren County are effectively subsidizing other police departments throughout the state. They do so by paying significant sums to recruit and train new officers to the point where they begin to truly excel in their positions, only to see them take this experience to other departments. This not only saves training funds for those departments, but also allows them to get excellent officers at lower market prices. Add to that the fact that more experienced officers usually means more effective law enforcement and you end up with a win-win situation for other departments and a lose-lose proposition for Vicksburg and Warren County.
Of course no one is suggesting that we trade places with these other agencies. All that is being asked is that we ensure a level playing field and try to retain the experienced officers we already have. While it might appear to be cheaper in the short term to simply keep pay rates low, in the long term taxpayers end up paying more.