New officers are coming to the Wellington police department, but they’re not staying.
Chief Tim Barfield went over the problem with village council at a recent meeting, saying that keeping new recruits is a “constant battle” when cities such as Amherst, Elyria, and Avon Lake pay their part-time officers around $25.
Part-time officers usually start at $15 an hour in Wellington, which is up slightly from $14 when Barfield took over the department in 2014.
Aside from trouble competing with hourly wages in those other communities, Barfield said the WPD’s process of giving out raises sometimes creates insurmountable differences in pay for officers who do the same level of work.
“I’ll hire a guy at $15 an hour right out of the academy,” he said. “He’ll get a raise after six months. He gets two percent of that $15. Then we hire someone with more experience who starts at $19 an hour. His raise percentage is going to be way higher than the guy at $15. If both of them stay here for 10 years, one will always make a lot more. It’s not good for morale. The disparity in pay now just doesn’t make sense.”
Wellington employs seven full-time officers and 10 part-timers, with the last full-time officer hired being Barfield.
He suggested moving to a tiered system for new police hires and characterized the current process of determining pay as “let’s make a deal” and lacking any set criteria.
“Let’s say I hire someone with 20 years of experience and another fresh out of training,” he said. “The guy with 20 years starts at tier four and tops out after one year. It may take the other officer five years, but he’ll also eventually be at tier five. Then both will be receiving the same pay to do the same work.”
No numbers were discussed of how a tiered pay system would work for Wellington police, but Barfied gave examples from other departments.
“A few other places were looked at in a wage study last year,” he said. “As that was happening, I went and pulled contracts from all the places that were mentioned. Every one of them was part of a tiered system. Let’s say there’s five tiers and it takes five years to get to the top if you start at level one. After that, any adjustments to that pay scale are made to the tiers themselves and not individual people’s pay.”
Wages are not the only factor in retaining more officers, Barfield said. He cited psychologist Abraham Maslow’s 1943 paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation.”
“People look at pay when they don’t have anything else to look at,” he said. “If you have a good department that takes care of you and gives you the right training, very often, money is not the only answer. I think we can prove that with some of the fantastic people we have here. Some of them have had opportunities to go other places and have chosen not to. It’s not always money, but money is part of the equation.”
“Our biggest issue is being able to offer people a full-time job and a future,” he said. “Not just a place where they’re holding on and hoping they might get on full-time in 10 years.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.