Prop P pay raises helping police departments with officer retention

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. - Fox 2/News 11 have aired multiple reports in recent months on police departments that can't keep officers.

The St. Louis County Police Department appears to be bucking that trend. Pay raises from the Prop P tax hike in St. Louis County passed last April took effect at the beginning of this year. Two months in, the impact is eye-popping.

"We've had a few bad years," said Officer Ben Granda, spokesman for the St. Louis County Police Department. "We had people leaving - either law enforcement entirely or the majority of them were seeking high paying jobs."

In the first two months of this year, only two members of the close to 960-member police force have left for a police job elsewhere; nine did so during the same time period last year.

"It's a small sample size, but it's concrete evidence that we're moving in the right direction," Granda said.

Granda added that it appeared to be a direct result of Prop P.

At last year's rate, it would be tough for the police academy to turn out enough new officers to keep current staffing levels let alone add the 115 new officers, which is now the plan.

The manpower boost will lead to more two-person officer cars.

It may also keep the department, now the state's third largest, out of the crisis mode other departments face.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department is losing more deputies than it can replace. Detective Jeff Ussery took a job elsewhere even though he had a promotion coming.

"At some point, I have to look after the best interest of my family to seek better pay and better benefits," Ussery said.

Starting officers in Jefferson County make about $15,000 a year less than starting officers in St. Louis County. An officer in St. Louis County who starts at a little more than $52,000-a-year would be making $60,000 after five years, and nearly $70,000 after 10 years without getting a promotion.

"I'm the low man on the totem pole here. I'm a police officer (rank)," Granda said. "With this pay matrix, I can see how much I'll be making in 5-10 years as far as future planning goes for me and my family. It's a big luxury now that we didn't have in previous years."

Both Jefferson and Franklin Counties have proposed tax hikes for police funding on the ballot next month. Jefferson County officials predict "dire" consequences if theirs fails. City of St. Louis voter just passed a tax hike to partially close the pay gap with St. Louis County.