City to offer police ‘signing bonus’
By LPR Staff
Some members of the Lockhart City Council hope the current crisis in police staffing can be solved at the expense of less than $250 per month.
Lockhart Police Department Chief Mike Lummus approached the Council on Tuesday evening with a proposal for an incentive plan for a “signing bonus” for entry level officers in hope
s that a cash bonus would attract more qualified candidates to the department.
The move is the most recent in a series of maneuvers by Lummus and LPD to ease the staffing shortage which has plagued the department, on and off, for more than a year.
Historically, LPD has been viewed by some, both within the community and outside, as a “training ground,” where new officers come to receive training and experience, only to leave eventually for better pay in departments in surrounding areas. While Lummus recognizes he is at the helm of a “young department,” he also notes there is a shortage of police officers throughout the nation.
“In speaking with the Chief of the San Antonio Police Department, he told me there was a time, not too long ago, when they could… “cherry-pick” was the term he used,” Lummus said. “He said they could take their pick of one out of every ten candidates. Now, they are down to about one in every three. It”s not just a Lockhart problem, and it”s not just a Texas problem…. it”s a nationwide problem that departments all over are trying to figure out how to solve.”
Currently, the Lockhart Police Department is short three officers. A recent round of testing under civil service standards yielded three applicants to fill three positions, but resulted in only one candidate being hired. This week, another officer tendered his resignation.
“We took a step forward filling the position after the testing, but then we took a step right back when we lost another officer,” Lummus said. “And I want to be very clear that I don”t think this incentive pay will solve the problem 100 percent. But I think it will be a starting point to get these positions filled so we can move forward in the next few budget years.”
Lummus told the council he had discussed the situation with City Manager Vance Rodgers and attempted to determine how other departments within the city, and how other departments in the area, handle hiring bonuses. Together, they suggested a sign-on bonus of $2,000, payable in two lump sums, the first to be paid when the officer finishes his or her Field Training Officer (FTO) training, and the second after the one-year probationary period.
“Under a contract drafted by our civil service attorney, the officer would have to stay with the department an additional year after completing the probationary period, or they could be pursued for a refund of the bonus amount,” Rodgers said.
According to figures suggested by District 4 Councilmember Michael Sanders, the $2,000 bonus equals about $83 per month per officer. Lummus said the funds are available in the current budget because the open positions have been open for some time.
Councilmember at Large Paul Gomez railed against the proposal, stating he understood there is a problem with pay scales within the Lockhart Police Department, but he was unsatisfied with the length of time suggested in Lummus” proposal.
“They won”t even get to know our beautiful city in 24 months,” he said. “I think we should require they stay longer than that.”
Gomez suggested a commitment period of four years for employees to be eligible for the sign-on bonus.
“Mr. Gomez, I feel you,” Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram said. “I absolutely understand where your concern is coming from. But I think Chief [Lummus] is going to have a hard time telling his new recruits “here is this little check for you, and now you need to stay here for four years.” I think this is something we can do immediately to try to help ease the situation at the police department.”
Prior to the vote, Lummus said his greatest concern is that the hiring crisis will limit candidates to the point that LPD no longer had the option of hiring “good” candidates.
“What I”m really trying to avoid here is being in the position where we have to take every applicant that comes through the door just because we need a warm body,” he said.
Gomez, who said he would support the wish of the council but wanted to make his concerns known, voted with the rest of the panel in support of the measure.
In brief council news:
Members of Lockhart Boy Scout Troop #215 attended the meeting to work toward earning their communication and public service badges.
The council recognized members of Lockhart Cause for Paws, who have worked in conjunction with Prevent A Litter of Central Texas (PALS) to organize Spay Day Lockhart/Caldwell County. The Spay Day project will feature a free spay and neuter clinic for low-income families.
They approved an order for a joint election to be held with the Lockhart Independent School District on May 10, 2008.
ILCOR Homes of Austin withdrew a bid to build five homes under the THDCA Home Program. The projects will be advertised for rebid in the near future.
The Lockhart City Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Room of Lockhart City Hall. The meetings are open to the public and televised on Time Warner Cable Channel 10.