The Hagerstown City Council has verbally approved expanding incentives for police officers in an effort to increase its force and position the city to be competitive in attracting well-trained, qualified applicants.
The Hagerstown Police Department plans to hire five post-9/11 military veterans through a $625,000 federal grant received earlier this month, but police officials also want to fill five more funded positions for sworn officers that remain vacant.
With several more vacancies expected through retirements in the next few months, maintaining an adequate police force will become a challenge, a city official told the five-member council during an Aug. 7 work session.
“Our goal is to find affordable ways to attract and keep good officers,” said Karen Paulson, the city’s director of human resources. “We believe these are affordable and they would be funded through the School Zone Enforcement funds.”
Paulson was joined by Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith and Capt. Mark Holtzman to present several recommendations for the city’s officer recruitment and retention program.
The average time to fully train an officer is about one year, and turnover can be costly, can negatively affect operations, and can increase overtime and training expenses, Paulson told the council.
Paulson’s suggestions included:
Expanding the current $5,000 hiring incentive to apply to new hires through the federal COPS grant.
Increasing the employee referral bonus from $500 to $1,500.
Offering a housing allowance of $100 per month for sworn officers who live within city limits.
Starting a one-time $1,000 bonus for bilingual officers.
Adding a military service credit applicable for police and fire personnel.
Creating a cadet program and expanding auxiliary police operations.
The demand for qualified officers has increased nationwide and the incentives would help Hagerstown stay competitive with other jurisdictions, Smith said.
“I think it gives us a little edge in hiring and increasing our applicant pool,” the chief told the city council.
The estimated cost for the incentives is $106,811 for the current fiscal year, including $74,786 for the cadet program and auxiliary police changes, which would enable an increase in coverage by such personnel from four hours, five days a week to 12 hours, seven days a week.
“They would take some of that pressure off police officers that are out there on the street answering those calls for service,” Holtzman said of increasing the auxiliary police force.
The cadet program would include tuition assistance — up to $1,500 per semester — for six cadets who would be selected to work downtown patrols, as well as serve other roles in the department, Holtzman said. Some of the cadet program costs would include money to hire an administrator to oversee the cadets’ duties, he said.
The city council was in favor of the incentives being put into place immediately, but Councilwoman Ashley Haywood suggested reprogramming some of the money to increase the housing allowance to entice new hires to move into the city.
“If we’re talking about the biggest bang for our buck in the city, I would rather the money spent go toward putting police cars in our neighborhoods parked in front of houses,” she said. “$100 is nice, but $200 would be nicer.”