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Chief wants raises for officers

Brookhaven Police Chief Bobby Bell recently asked the city to raise the pay of police officers in an effort to reduce turnover on the force.

Bell said low pay is deterring people from the profession.

Bell

Bell

Bell requested that the Board of Alderman raise the pay of each position within the police department but focused mainly on certified and non-certified officers.

“The last few months, we’ve been talking about money and the police department’s growth,” Bell said. “I’ve done a comparison of surrounding area police departments and their starting pay. What I’m trying to do is start our pay around theirs or better. In order to do this, we’re going to have to move it up because we’re the lowest beginning department in this area.”

The starting pay for non-certified police officers at the Brookhaven Police Department is $27,534.12, Bell said.

“Lincoln County starts out with $29,000, McCombs starts out with $29,440, Brandon starts at $28,999, and Pearl starts $29,500,” Bell said. “I want to see if we can inspire some of the young men in our area — that was one of my campaign promises — to become police officers. Basically, I think the price has something to do with it.”

“I’m asking the board to consider setting the starting pay of a non-certified officer at $30,000,” Bell said. “I want the board to know that this last year our department has responded to 13,292 calls, while being understaffed.”

Natchez, a slightly larger city, starts non-certified officers at $25,326 and certified officers at $26,376.

Natchez Police Captain Tom McGehee said the NPD has a capacity to hire 44 police officers but right now only employs 42 officers. The turnover rate for police officers at the NPD is not particularly high, with an average of six out of 42 officers leaving each year, he said.

NPD responded to a more than 19,000 calls in 2015.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office reported its entry-level, non-certified deputy’s pay is $29,000 and its certified deputy’s is $30,000. The sheriff’s department employs 14 part-time deputies, seven part-time deputies, 15 reserve deputies and seven administration employees.

Bell said since the annexation, the BPD has been understaffed by several officers. The department currently employees 26 certified full-time police officers and one part-time officer, he said.

“Last count with Mr. Jinks (city clerk) about a year and a half, two years ago, we had slots for 30 officers,” Bell said. “Right now, I have one slot for a detective. I have three officers in the academy. I have two officers that need to go to the academy.”

In addition to the increase in starting officer pay, Bell requested that each of the currently employed officers be given a pay raise of $1,000.

“If we increase the beginners’ pay, we’re also going to have to do something for the officers that are already here,” Bell said. “My request is to bump them up from where they are at this time. I also request a $500 pay raise for my support staff.”

Bell said he would like to evaluate each police officer, ranked sergeant or higher, before any raise is given.

“I would like to have a say-so, to make sure that they’re not just given this thousand dollars,” Bell said. “There’s some criteria that come with it, as far as work ethics and things like that.”

The $1,000 raise would also be given to entry-level officers who graduate from the police academy, Bell said. Under the proposed policy, if an officer graduated from the academy, they would move from $30,000 to $31,000, he said.

Ward 1 Alderman Randy Belcher said the board did not make a decision on Bell’s request due to lack of knowledge.

“We’re going to look into it a little deeper,” Belcher said. “They are looking at actually bringing some kind of consultant in to kind of help with the promotions and stuff like that. Those are the two things we are looking at. We’re looking at the rates and a way to promote these guys.”

“I have nothing against it, but I know we have to be very careful about how we stack it with the rate so we don’t run into problems,” Ward 2 Alderman Terry Bates said.

Some have suggested that an understaffed police force could be a factor in last year’s crime increase, but Belcher disagreed.

“I worked for the police station,” Belcher. “I’ve got 15 years in law enforcement. I don’t think the crime rate has nothing to do with the officers we have or the lower pay. They’re a little short, but not enough for how the crime rate is up here.”

“If you look at the rate of all the other places, there is some adjustment in there that I think needs to be fixed, but from looking at other towns our rate is up there,” Belcher said. “Our starting pay and maybe some of our bottom, low-end may need some adjustment, but our upper pay here in Brookhaven you’re looking at 50 something thousand dollars. You got a pretty good salary.”