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BPS looks for answer to officer retention rate, higher salaries

Last weekend at the Bainbridge City Council retreat, Bainbridge Public Safety assistant director Frank Green approached the council with four possible solutions to a problem that faces BPS: retention rate.

Currently, the average time at BPS for officers is 2.2 years. BPS will attempt to boost that number over the next year in order to build a more experienced force.

Green listed four possible solutions that the city council could debate. First was to raise officer salary. In a research study performed by Paula Sanford, Ph.D., with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, BPS salary is among the top salaries of Police Forces in comparative municipalities. However, BPS officers are trained to perform two roles.

Currently, BPS officers take home a little more than $14.50 an hour and are on the clock for an average of 42 hours a week, according to the study. Green would like to see this number increased to a little more than $16.50 to compensate for the loss of officers to jobs that pay around the same, but without the added responsibility of fire duty.

“We felt like at that rate, if it were selected, it would help us in increasing the longevity of our employees,” said Green. “It would put us at the top salary-wise (out of surrounding communities), but that’s like comparing apples to oranges. There’s two functions they (BPS) serve.”

Another solution Green presented was to hire three more fire-only employees. Right now, BPS has five fire-only employees with one at each shift. Green would like to raise this number to eight total and place two per shift.

“It would help us with retention because we’re getting another fire person,” said Green. “The main reason is our fire engines drive, handle and work totally different than a police car. If you have an officer that’s out on patrol, and today is his day to operate the apparatus, that’s a big jump.”

The third solution offered by Green was to create a take-home vehicle program that would allow officers who live in Bainbridge the ability to drive their cruisers home. This would help retain officers by keeping them within the city limits. A fourth solution was to hire based on anticipated loss, which would simply keep the number of openings down.

“I would say to use some of all of it. I can’t pick one over the other, because then you’re just limiting yourself,” said Green. “Pay is always important. If someone said ‘pick one’, I would pick pay to help with retention. The first thing in their best interest is the pay, because they have family. But I would like to use a little bit of all of the solutions.”

With the ideas on the table, the ball moves to City Council’s court.

“I think the first step we’re going to do is look at the take-home vehicle policy,” said Bainbridge city manager Chris Hobby. “Then the salary and staffing part we’ll do as part of next year’s budget. We’ll do a third-party study on it, so that’ll be a budgeted item for 2018.”

With a new fleet of vehicles arriving in June, the quickest solution to be implemented would be the take-home vehicle plan, according to Hobby.

The joined efforts of BPS and City Council to raise the retention rate are grounded in the want for an experienced staff.

“It’s very important because of the maturity and knowledge,” said Green. “Unfortunately our problem is the same problem that every municipality, county, and state are having. It’s not easy in this field of work and it seems like we always have openings so when we get them of course we want to retain them.”