Provo opts to increase police pay instead of adding officers

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Instead of hiring four new police officers and a police budget analyst this year, Provo’s going to increase pay for existing and future officers.

The city council voted Tuesday night to use the money it would have spent on the new positions to instead increase pay to attract and retain officers. The city also moved about $68,000 from the economic development department, where there’s a vacant position, to the police department.

The money — $554,000 — will increase the department’s entry-level pay as well as pay grades throughout the department.

“Recruiting has gotten more difficult,” said Councilman David Sewell. “The need is more pressing to increase compensation for our current officers so we can retain them.”

Daniel Softley, Provo’s human resources director, told the council last month that other departments are becoming aggressive in attracting experienced officers.

Last year, Provo lost five officers to other departments, Police Chief Rich Ferguson told the council in June. It replaced those people with brand-new officers.

For the most part, all new police hires are brand-new officers, Softley said. So when the department loses officers who’ve been on the job for a while, they lose their experience. Plus, it costs about $150,000 each to put new officers through the police academy and outfit them, Ferguson said.

He said he’s “very pleased” with the department’s new hires. But it will take several years for them to gain the experience to take on leadership roles in the department.

He said the department already has a strong retention package. Plus, Provo is a destination city, and people who live there appreciate police. The department also has special teams and special assignments available for officers. But salaries need to increase, too.

“I need to keep my officers here,” Ferguson said. “We can’t be a training ground for other agencies.”

Though Provo decided to increase pay instead of hiring more officers, the city isn’t done looking for ways to increase the number of officers, said Councilman George Handley.

“While I’m going to support this and think this is a more pressing need, we still have a dire need for more officers,” said Councilman David Harding. “Officers are stretched too thin and we’re asking them to do too much with too little.”

In fact, Provo is 15 police officers short from the level a 2012 report from the Police Executive Research Forum recommended. But even if the department had funding for the positions, they’re hard to fill. Last month, Ferguson told the council there are 600 law enforcement vacancies in Utah.

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Amie Rose has more than 14 years of experience writing and editing at newspapers in Utah and New Mexico. She graduated from BYU with a degree in journalism. She lives in Utah Valley with her husband, toddler and crazy dog.

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