Springfield’s chief of police discusses recruitment, increased starting wages and incentives

Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 10:58 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The Springfield City Council approved a new police union contract and the Springfield Police Department’s recruitment plan on Monday.

This comes after a continued shortage of police officers in the city, something city leaders and Police Chief Paul Williams have discussed multiple times.

SPD has 44 empty spots, according to Chief Williams. The number is well above where he and other city leaders would like to be. But Chief Williams said he is confident they can chip away at that number, in part thanks to a new $6,000 boost to starting wages.

”The starting pay has been a detriment absolutely in our community,” Williams said. “I’ve been saying for about 10 years we’re about $6,000 to $8,000 under where we should be. We made a $6,000 jump this year. That should help dramatically raise us above any other local agency and puts us on par with some of our other peer agencies around the country.”

After a year where the number of officer applicants dropped by nearly 50%, Chief Williams said low wages definitely needed attention.

The starting pay for new officers will finally make that jump on July 1. Chief Williams said new recruits are still paid during their time in the academy, so that $6,000 boost in starting pay will take place after they graduate.

The recruitment plan is filled with incentives for potential officers, like increased referral bonuses.

”The best recruiting tool is word of mouth,” Williams said. “If someone’s happy where they’re at, they’re going to tell other people and they are going to bring other folks in.”

The referral bonus will be increased to $3,000 and will include laterals as well as any police recruit, as long as they are hired, graduate from the police academy, and complete the field training program.

The recruitment plan also includes a “retention pay” program in which each new police officer will be eligible for up to $5,000 after five years of service. That retention pay will be paid out annually in $1,000 installments on the anniversary of their date of hire, dependent on an overall satisfactory performance evaluation.

The department is also doubling the current amount of relocation assistance available to new hires. According to the city, this will now include the cost of temporary housing as an allowable expense in addition to moving expenses.

”Those little things might make the difference of someone deciding to come test here first and then if they have multiple job offers, ‘hey you’re going to get extra money to come here to move you or your family,’ ”Williams said. “That might make the difference.”

Williams said the current officer shortage is a national one.

“There’s this negative narrative around the law enforcement profession,” he said.

While Williams said Springfield is a very supportive community for law enforcement, he said negative views of law enforcement can impact whether people want to join the profession or even stay in the profession.

“We’re always a great proving ground for federal law enforcement agencies,” Williams said. “We always lose two to four people a year to FBI, DEA or ATF and that’s to be expected. We can’t retain those folks, but the ones that are waffling about whether they get out of law enforcement or not, or whether they go to a different law enforcement agency, those are the ones we want to try and impact with the contract and working at making this a great place to work.”

All of these changes aim to eliminate the burden officers currently face.

”We’re not able to handle the calls like we used to,” Springfield Police Officer’s Association President Andy Zinke said. “We want to spend more time with people. We want to spend more time helping people address the crime issues that are going on, unfortunately we can’t right now cause we’re so short staffed. Unfortunately this does not do it overnight. It will take a year, two years or three years to see our ranks build back up.”

Zinke said while there is large focus on attracting new recruits, there is still a focus on those who have been with the department for some time.

“We’re still working towards and try to address officer who have been on the job for five years or longer,” he said. “They have worked through this pandemic and they have worked their butts off for the last several years and we’re trying to make sure that those officers get significant pay raises remuneration as well for the work that they’ve been doing.”

While Williams, union members and city leaders feel confident in these changes, they know it will be a gradual rebuild.

”This is a three year plan that I put together,” Williams described. “I don’t want anybody to think this is all going to be fine in August, in a month. We’re not going to be back up to fully staffed by the end of the year or next year. It’s going to be a slow process.”

Williams said it was a slow drain of officers, and it will likely be a slow build back up. He said he is hopeful in three years, at the end of the plan, most if not all of those spots will be filled.

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