Plymouth Police Officers will receive a wage increase following the actions of the City Council Monday evening.
On January 9th a committee was formed to evaluate the city’s need to address the issue of police officers leaving the department. At that time 4 officers had resigned from the department and two additional officers have now left.
The committee was made up of Board of Works member Bill Walters, Councilmen Duane Culp and Don Ecker, Police Chief Dave Bacon, City Attorney Sean Surrisi, Clerk-Treasurer Lynn Gorski, and the city’s HR Director Jen Klingerman.
Klingerman said the committee discussed raising hourly pay and other benefits that would help retain existing officers and entice new officers to the police department. She said the city has already implemented a Lateral Transfer Policy that went into effect last August. The committee has also discussed changes to the Take Home Vehicle Policy which was implemented in 2021. The new changes are expected to begin on March 1st.
She presented the proposed wage increase for police officers. The committee suggested an increase of $5,000 for all police positions across the board in the 77 Pension fund. Klingerman said, “We looked at all the numbers and Lynn (Gorski) does think it is a possibility. If passed by April 1st it will come out to be a $3,700 increase to each officer for this year.”
Councilman Greg Compton asked about including the updated Take Home Vehicle Policy at the same time and City Attorney Surrisi said that is an internal departmental policy issued by the chief.
Compton said he didn’t object but the monetary impact of the Take Home Vehicle Policy will impact the city’s budget and felt the council should have a say in the policy.
Currently, Plymouth Police Officers can drive their vehicle to and from work only. The proposed policy change would allow them to drive throughout the county with unlimited use.
Compton proposed allowing city officers to drive in Marshall County and the surrounding counties with unlimited use saying that it could help recruit officers to the department.
Councilman Robert Listenberger was also supportive of allowing officers to drive in the surrounding counties. He said the $5,000 wage increase and the unlimited use of a squad car should help in the retention of officers and just as important as recruitment.
Councilman Jeff Houin said the Take Home Policy gave the chief authorization to evaluate and adjusted at his discretion. He didn’t think it was necessary for the council to vote on a change to the policy.
The chief was excited to hear the council’s willingness to open up the Take Home Vehicle Policy even more. He did have concerns with his fuel budget for this year and the Clerk-Treasurer also said the additional mileage wasn’t budgeted for in 2023.
Councilman Houin asked the Chief, “Are you having these discussions with the officers on the force to find out what are things that would appeal to them? Are they asking to be able to drive the cars more or asking for something else?”
Chief Bacon said the take-home vehicles are important to the officers, even to those who live in Plymouth.
Listenberger asked if there was anything else the City Council could do that would be helpful in any way. He said, “I just don’t want us to unknowingly hamstring any efforts for retention.”
The chief said the $5,000 raise is big to retain the officers they currently have. There are other things we are looking at in the committee including specialty pay for specialty positions within the department. In the last budget session, the chief put in for a $1,200 clothing allowance, and the council set it a $1,000. He said an increase in that benefit would help. The department also changed the policy on beards. Bacon said, “Pay is the big thing but little things like the beard policy are a simple fix and other departments are doing that as well.”
Councilman Don Ecker said, “We could jump in and approve everything that is being asked for but then we get into a sustainability issue. Can we sustain it and we don’t know if we can so we are implementing it along the way. We are taking the critical items and addressing them such as take-home cars and compensation.” Ecker said he wanted to make sure the city could sustain the offerings to employees.
Councilman Compton said he met with the Sheriff and with some people in South Bend and they feel opening up the take-home policy is a critical part to attract qualified candidates. He also said, “If we would get 2 or 3 people who live outside the county, which could be a stretch, to begin with, isn’t going to make a great impact on the budget. If we think it will make a big impact, I think we are fooling ourselves.”
Councilman Houin said the committee has considered many different options and is having ongoing discussions on how the city can incentivize officers to stay and attract new officers. The committee will have to keep at it, looking for ways to make it an attractive department to work for. Houin continued, “Rather than make a snap judgment tonight on what the policy should be I would prefer to give it to at least our next council meeting and give the chief time to consider what the suggestion was and to come back and let us know what the committee’s recommendation is.”
City Attorney Sean Surrisi will draft the pay raise for the next meeting on February 27th and additional modifications to the take-home vehicle policy will happen after the Chief and committee review the impact on the budget.
Klingerman did tell the City Council that she and the Clerk-Treasurer worked together on the pay increase, and it won’t cause the need for any additional appropriations by the end of the year. It’s already built into this year’s budget.