Since July 2016, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department has lost seven deputies to more lucrative opportunities at nearby agencies.
A similar trend has impacted municipal police forces within the county.
That’s according to Sheriff Steve Pelton who, along with local police chiefs, is advocating for the passage of Prop P on the April 3 ballot.
“It has become increasingly difficult for law enforcement agencies in Franklin County to recruit and retain a sufficient number of qualified employees,” Pelton said. “This impacts every Franklin County citizen.”
Prop P is a proposed half-cent sales tax expected to generate $6 million per year. The Franklin County Commission has proposed half of the money will go toward renovations for the county jail and 911 facilities, while the additional $3 million will go to supplement all law enforcement agencies in the county.
It is the supplement to the sheriff’s office and other police agencies that would boost salaries making positions here more appealing.
Voters in St. Louis County approved a half-cent sales tax last year to be used exclusively for law enforcement services.
“Competition from other agencies in the St. Louis area compounds this problem when they can offer better salaries and benefits for the same type of work even when it involves a commute,” Pelton said.
The sheriff noted the Franklin County measure would not result in pay as high as St. Louis County, or other areas such as St. Charles County.
“But, this initiative will enable us to narrow the gap and keep it from spreading too far,” Pelton commented.
Deputies can increase their salary by 27 percent at the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Department, and by 32 percent at the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department. Officers also could go to municipalities in the St. Louis area and earn 26 percent more than departments in Franklin County.
According to Pelton, recruitment of qualified applicants has become competitive. Most police academy recruits are sought after and hired by larger agencies before the completion of their program.
“This illustrates how the demand for well-trained, knowledgeable applicants has grown over the years,” he said. “Cadets are often becoming employed with an agency before they graduate.”
The Franklin County Sheriff’s office is down six deputies now, and city forces in the county also are short-staffed.
In Gerald, deputies have been assisting police with calls due to recruitment issues.
“Law enforcement agencies within Franklin County need to be able to compete when it comes to providing competent, qualified services for our citizens,” Pelton stated.
The sheriff noted that his department will continue to lose officers while neighboring agencies offer higher salaries and better benefit packages.
“We cannot afford to lose the training, expertise and skills they possess to another agency,” he said.
Furthermore, local agencies need to address crime trends by hiring additional investigators and investing in better technology, he said.
“These are issues being faced by all law enforcement agencies nationwide, but most specifically these are issues being faced by the citizens of Franklin County,” Pelton said. “It is our goal to ensure Franklin County remains a safe place to live, work and raise a family.”
In a recent interview with The Missourian, Pacific Police Chief Matt Mansell said increasing salaries is critical for his city which edges into St. Louis County where starting salaries are $58,000 a year. That is compared to $38,000 in Pacific.
“I wouldn’t just say I’m for Prop P,” Mansell said. “I’d say it is a necessity.”
Union Police Chief Norman Brune said there is “a real problem developing and we need to address it” in some manner.
“Proposition P is a good step forward in addressing the problem,” he said.
Before St. Louis County passed a tax, Brune said it was common to get 100 applications for an officer position. With the most recent openings at the department, “we had very few applications.”
Smaller departments in the county, including Gerald and New Haven, could fill vacancies if Prop P is passed.
Gerald Police Chief James Helton said his department has struggled to fully staff the force and retain officers.
“This department has always been a proving ground, or steppingstone, for better pay,” Helton said. “The additional funding would help in retention of officers.”
According to New Haven Police Chief Dan Terry, finding qualified candidates became much more difficult following the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.
“Five years ago, just before Ferguson, we had people calling and asking to work for free,” Terry said. “There were so many officers coming out of the academy that nobody would touch without experience.
“At this stage in the game we only have two officers who are not working secondary jobs on the weekend,” he said. “(Prop P) would help us immensely.”