Will city have rookie police force? | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Will city have rookie police force?

Their job is to protect the city. A city many don’t feel they can afford to live in.

Of the 52 officers on the South Lake Tahoe Police Department only a handful live within the city limits. A few more make their home in the county, but officers estimate that more than 50 percent of the police force lives outside the Tahoe Basin.

The reasons behind their home-buying choices are varied, but, according to the officers, a majority of it falls back on their wages.

In the last few months two officers have left for other departments and three more have given notice. Two aren’t leaving the basin, rather moving over to the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department. A department that is seen as having more opportunities for advancement and increased benefits.

Officers predict if wages don’t increase, their department, which use to draw experienced officers from all over California, will become a training ground for rookies.

“The city did a study in 1991 or ’92 that compared the department with 10 other comparable police departments around the state,” explained officer Terry Daniels, a board member of the South Lake Tahoe Police Officers Association. “They then gave us a pay raise that put us in the middle of that comparison. We recently revisited that study and found that right now we are about 10 to 15 percent behind those agencies.”

The police officers contract is up in October and negotiations between the city and police are just beginning. The police, Daniels said, are coming to the talks with high expectations.

“The (Transient Occupancy Tax) is up, revenue is up, it’s been a banner year for the city,” Daniels observed. “We are hoping some of that will spill over to the employees.”

City officers starting pay, before taxes, is $35,664 per year and tops out at $43,356. Officers can add up to 10 percent onto that salary for advanced certification and training.

An El Dorado County Sheriff’s deputy starts at $34,750, before taxes, and goes up to $42,265, actually slightly less than the police department’s base salary. But under their new contract by 2002, deputies can add 12.5 percent to their pay through having a college degree and training, and receive additional pay for being bilingual, according to Nancy Egbert, the Sheriff’s business manager. The city doesn’t have any incentive programs for bilingual officers.

City manager Kerry Miller said he is not unaware of the mood and feelings of the city’s police.

“I understand that they feel their salaries have slipped over the years, and they feel the department has fallen behind competitively on the salary scale. We will be looking at all of that,” Miller said. “I know that their expectations are high, and we will be going to the ‘bargaining’ table and hopefully working within the city’s constraints to meet their expectations, as well as them working to meet ours.”

Chief of Police and Fire Brad Bennett said wages are just one area that affects the department’s competitive edge to recruit and retain officers.

“We just recently had our first promotional testing in five years and we had 12 people test for sergeant. There have just not been any openings because in the past we have had very little turnover. I don’t blame them for being frustrated,” Bennett said of his police force. “We ran an ad for an opening for two months in a publication read by officers all over California, and only got four people coming to test. In the past, we used to get hundreds of applicants for the same type of position. But, we’re not alone. When the economy is good it is hard to recruit for government jobs. And we’re competing with a lot of other departments for experienced people.”

Daniels agreed with his chief’s assessment.

“In years past there were a lot of qualified people and not this big competition between agencies. We can’t compete with agencies offering $5,000 to $6,000 a month as starting pay, and we probably never will,” Daniels said. “But what happens with agencies with really low pay is they become a training ground. You have a constant turnover and it just degrades the whole department. None of us wants to deal with the liability of having a whole force of inexperienced officers on the street.”

Annual minimum to maximum salaries before taxes

Airport maintenance supervisor, $37,440 – 45,516

Airport management assistant, $41,328 – 50,244

Boating safety officer, $30,984 – $37,620

Chief of police and fire, $70,032 – $85,128

City attorney, $77,100 – $93,720

City clerk, $49,560 – $60,252

City manager, $79,236 – $96,312

Evidence technician $33,948 – $41,268

Firefighter, $33,384 – $40,584

Lead parks maintenance worker, $32,580 – $39,600

Police officer, $35,664 – $43,356

Police sergeant, $43,452 – $52,824

Police commander, $52,956 – $64,356

Police clerk assistant, $17,952 – $21,816

Police records tech, $21,768 – $26,460

Principal building inspector, $40,680 – $49,452

Records supervisor, $29,268 – $35,580

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