For Washington Police Chief Ed Menefee, something needs to be done to stop the stream of officers leaving his department.
His department is operating shorthanded after a number of officers have left the force. Since the summer of 2016, 11 officers have left the Washington Police Department. In a few weeks, after two more officers leave, the department will be down by five.
Menefee said exit interviews with the officers have revealed a common complaint — it’s not the community, it’s not the department and it’s not him. The issue is money.
Menefee said officers are able to find jobs just a county away that pays $15,000 to $20,000 more. It’s that reason Menefee said he would welcome extra funds if voters approve Franklin County’s Proposition P at the April 3 election.
Proposition P is a half-cent countywide sales tax with proceeds going to law enforcement.
The city of Washington and Franklin County have battled at times over the finer points of Proposition P. The city has advocated for a sunset, more transparency and a different funding mechanism. The county has balked at Washington’s requests.
The bickering, Menefee said, put him in a “weird” spot, but ultimately he said he can see both sides of the argument. While his position as a city official prevents him from officially endorsing Proposition P, Menefee said the measure would be a big help to his department with officer retention and hiring.
Washington has never been able to match the pay of other municipalities, Menefee said. Many St. Louis County departments have always paid more, but for Washington the difference was never as big as it is now after St. Louis County voters approved their own Prop P.
Menefee called the current gap a “chasm.” In the past Washington was able to make up some of the difference by offering great benefits, he said. The city offers a good insurance program, a smaller community and a low crime rate.
Those factors don’t cover the pay disparity anymore, Menefee said.
If Proposition P were approved, Menefee said he’d like the money to be used for raises for new and current officers. He said if Washington could get within 80 percent of the salary offered elsewhere, it would help prevent departures.
Retention is just part of the issue. Menefee said losing officers hurts, but hiring has become a bigger challenge.
The police chief said his department is extremely picky when it comes to selecting new officers. He said the city looks for the right officer, not just an officer. For one opening several years ago, police spent a year trying to find a suitable replacement.
If salaries aren’t addressed, officers fresh out of the academy will look elsewhere. Washington won’t get the top choices and Menefee said he never wants to “settle” on hiring someone.
“Why settle for second?” he asked.
With St. Louis County already passing a similar proposition and other counties looking at measures, Menefee said the last county to hold out will face a challenge.
“Good luck trying to find quality officers,” he said.
Proposition P is more than just more money for police. It is proposed that half of the proceeds would go to fund a new county jail.
While paying officers more is important, Menefee said the jail is just as big an issue. Right now the jail is often overbooked and out of room.
The result is many arrested people are put back on the street quicker. Menefee said a few months back a man was arrested for stealing, held for 24 hours and then released. The next day the same man was arrested for stealing, held for a short time and released. A few days later the same man was arrested for stealing for the third time.
With more space in the jail, Menefee said it would be possible for longer stays and could help cut down on crime.
Menefee said the jail upgrades are long overdue. He said the county is growing and that means the jail should, too. If changes aren’t made, the county could be faced with closing the jail because it’s not up to standards.
He pointed out that the current jail was built after the county was forced to upgrade its facilities because it was not up to standards.
CRM - Menefee Prop P - 021718