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June 24, 2021

Editorial: Other agencies might be forced to raise pay, too

With fewer people entering law enforcement and the city of Salisbury raising police pay to help with recruitment and retention, nearby agencies could be forced to take similar action to keep up.

Unless there are other changes, current Salisbury Police officers are on track to receive a 6.5% pay raise — a welcome boost for officers in the department — in the 2021-2022 fiscal year. It’s one that might keep officers around who would otherwise consider leaving for a significant boost in pay. A bigger challenge is outbidding other departments for top, new recruits or poaching away existing officers from other agencies.

Police Chief Jerry Stokes described those challenges in an April 18 meeting of the Salisbury City Council, saying, “Frankly, our number of qualified candidates is not good at this point.” Then, there were 72 officers employed in a department with 83 budgeted. In a February meeting, Stokes said the number of students entering N.C. basic law enforcement training in 2020 hit a six-year low.

For Stokes, the shortage is a return to the problems at the beginning of his tenure, when there were roughly the same number of open positions. This time, it’s not just a Salisbury problem.

The number of open positions at the Durham Police Department hit a five-year high, WRAL reported May 7. The Asheville Citizen-Times reported last week 30% of its city’s allocated positions are currently vacant; the department also announced officers would not respond in-person to some crimes. The Fayetteville Observer reported April 7 that the Fayetteville Police Department had 63 vacant full-time positions, but that wasn’t affecting responses to incidents. WSOC-TV reported May 14 that the N.C. Highway Patrol has 1,400 troopers to cover the whole state.

Salisbury’s efforts are likely to help in the short-term. The police department may lure away some officers from the Rowan Sheriff’s Office or smaller town police departments. Some new recruits may also find Salisbury’s offer to be the most attractive.

But in an environment where fewer people are going into law enforcement to begin with, local governments could find themselves in an arms race for the best compensation packages. Competition is stiff for the best new recruits and high, too, for everyone else. For existing officers who don’t live a short drive away, it could be tough to leave a job closer to home for an unfamiliar department that offers a few thousand extra dollars per year. Pay isn’t the only factor in whether someone is happy with a job.

The solution, of course, is more people choosing to enter law enforcement, but that’s easier said than done amid nationwide challenges facing law enforcement.

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