Local law enforcement officials already have felt some strain from the boost in pay that officers in St. Louis County are poised to receive.
New revenue will come from the voter-approved sales tax expected to bring raises to officers, more training and equipment to the stressed St. Louis County department. Over half of the expected $80 million in annual revenue would go to St. Louis County and the remaining approximate $36 million would go to municipalities within the county.
“It makes it challenging for law enforcement agencies everywhere, not just Franklin County,” said Sheriff Steve Pelton. “We already have had deputies leave due to the pay increase.”
New figures have been released that outline the discrepancy between the Franklin County and municipal police forces in the county compared to the neighboring department.
The St. Louis County Council unanimously approved a pay increase for officers that will average about 30 percent per officer, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A final vote on raises for higher ranking officers is expected later this year.
Depending on experience, pay for officers in St. Louis COunty could be $20,000 higher than salaries in Franklin County.
“The people we have are committed, excellent law enforcement professionals,” Pelton added, “but when they can drive 40 minutes away and get $20,000 more it is hard to compete.”
According to reports, officers in St. Louis County with 10 years of experience who earn $48,256 in base pay will see their base pay increase to $68,848.
Following a 2014 countywide salary study, Franklin County deputies received a 3 percent raise, as well as length-of-service pay increases.
“Eventually it is going to have to be addressed,” Pelton said.
Police Chief Ed Menefee said two of his officers are already on the move to St. Louis County and two more have expressed interest in joining.
With the retirement of another officer, Menefee said the city could be down five of its 28 officers.
“It’s a big impact,” he said. “Being down five people would be devastating.”
Menefee said an officer who recently retired has expressed interest in coming back to fill one of the five spots, but the department is still going to be shorthanded.
“It just makes more overtime, which wears everyone down,” he said. “We have holidays coming up, and it might be no vacations during those times because we need the manpower.”
St. Clair Officers
According to St. Clair Police Chief Bill Hammack, in the past year and a half, five officers have left St. Clair for better paying positions either in St. Louis or St. Charles counties. In addition, two officers retired and one died.
Hammack said finding good qualified applicants to fill their place was not easy.
“In some of these positions, it took me up to six months to find an applicant (who) applied who didn’t have disciplinary problems in another department or was looking for employment because they lost their employment at another police department,” Hammack said.
Union Police Capt. Kyle Kitcher said he expects an impact within the force, but the department strives to hire officers who want to be in the Union community.
“We still hold fast to the belief that there are good men and women in the community who want to be in law enforcement in the community where they grew up,” he said.
“That really gets our attention,” Kitcher added. “There is better retention for officers who have been in the community for some time.”
Kitcher said Union aldermen and city staff have provided excellent benefits for police and their families.
According to Pelton, the “post Ferguson” effect already has impacted the number of people who enter the profession and police academies are struggling to get applicants.
“They are not looking to start a career in law enforcement,” he said.
“There are fewer applicants now than ever in my career,” Kitcher added. “Some of that is due to the national media portrayal of police — if you beat the police up nationwide for several years, it will take time for things to get better.”
Washington recently accepted applications to fill two of the openings. Menefee said he was hopeful to find a replacement in the pool, but said it wasn’t guaranteed the department would be hiring anyone soon. The last time the department had an opening, it took about a year to find the “right” officer, he said.
“You can settle for anyone, or you can settle for the quality applicant,” he said. “We don’t settle for anybody, we settle for quality.”
Lately, recruitment has been hard for police. Menefee said the job is so demanding and polarizing right now that many people are turned off by the idea of becoming a police officer. He said the applicant pool is smaller and many of the candidates are subpar.
“We’ve seen a big drop in people interested and a big drop in the quality,” he said.
Years ago, when a positioned opened in St. Clair, there would be 15 to 25 applicants, Hammack said. In recent years, when a position opens, there are one to two applicants after months of advertising.
“It makes things difficult because you don’t want to just put a person in that position (who has had) problems elsewhere or (who) doesn’t meet the (hiring) standards,” Hammack said.
The police department currently has 14 officers. Hammack said as the town grows and with the department’s “pretty high call load,” they are in need of more officers.
Missourian staff writers Joe Barker and Elizabeth Barmier contributed to the story.