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Cornelius News

Police pay raise nabs improvement in morale, recruiting

March 19. By Dave Vieser. When new Cornelius Police Officers Sara Cruz and Dominic Saladino were introduced at a recent Town Board Meeting, it marked a dramatic turn for the 79 employee department, 61 of whom are police officers.

Just one year ago, the town was losing officers to other towns and cities which were offering higher salaries. At the time, there was a $5,000 gap between Cornelius officers and Davidson’s and $7,000 with Huntersville. Recognizing the problem, the Town Board, by a 3-2 vote, agreed to raise town salaries last April to a competitive level, even before the fiscal year 2020 budget was adopted.

Chief Kevin Black

While that incensed former commissioners Dave Gilroy and Kurt Naas, both of whom opposed the higher salaries being granted before the budget was completed, the impact on police staffing has been positive.

Raising police officer salaries to market level last spring had a “positive effect on both the retention and recruitment,”according to Town Manager Andrew Grant.

In FY 2019, which ran through June 30, there were a total of 13 officers who resigned voluntarily.

Only two officers have resigned voluntarily during the current fiscal year.

Vacancies also paint a similar picture. In 2019, the department  had as many as 10 officer vacancies at any given time.  As of Feb. 15 of this year, there were only three vacancies, and that means a lot to Chief Kevin Black.

“The improved staffing level enables the department to be more actively and effectively engaged in the community,” Black said.

The job is tough: Sometimes unpredictable hours, stress, weekend and holiday hours.

Attrition among police is higher than nursing and teachers, yet training new officers is more expensive than retaining experienced officers. At the same time, recruiting new officers is challenging when other departments were offering more. And in some cases, new recruits were out on serious cases including domestic calls, frequently the most dangerous and volatile situations even in quiet Cornelius neighborhoods.

“During periods of attrition, staffing can reach a level where officers spend a majority of their shift reacting to crime and less time proactively engaged in community policing and crime prevention activities,” Black said.

The salary adjustments and hiring incentives have improved officer retention and increased the number of applicants applying for open positions, “allowing us to be a proactive policing department,” Black added.

Cornelius Police patrol all sections of the town, both incorporated and unincorporated. They are supplemented by the North Carolina State Troopers primarily on I-77 and at times by the Mecklenburg County Sheriffs Office.

One of the most effective things towns can do to reduce attrition is to demonstrate that they appreciate their police officers. Mayor Woody Washam, who pushed for the pay raise last year, recognizes new police officers and promotions at town board meetings.

“I plan to take every opportunity to show appreciation to our public safety officials and town staff every chance I get.  Recognition from hiring, to promotion, to educational milestones, to significant achievements and performance deserve recognition from town management and elected officials,” he said.

Washam: I plan to take every opportunity to show appreciation to our public safety officials and town staff…