Payson At A Crossroads For Police Protection

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The town of Payson is about to experience what I have termed as a convergence of circumstances regarding the employment of police officers. This convergence is going to happen; there is no stopping it. Here is how it will happen:

At least three of us will retire in the next two years. By the middle of 2007, seven senior police department employees will be eligible to retire.

Of course we're not the only police department in the state facing the issue of retirements. The lead story in the Sunday, July 31, Arizona Republic reports an estimated 1,400 retirements in our business by the year 2010.

On average, the Payson Police Department experiences one to two officer turnovers during any given year as a result of officers who change occupations.

The town of Payson grows at the rate of about 500 people per year. The national average for police officers, which is about where Payson is, is approximately one officer per every 500 population. I believe the water situation will be improved and that we will see an increase in new developments, increasing the need for additional police officers.

Last year, after a statewide recruitment effort including advertisements in more than 60 newspapers, and on radio, the Payson Police Department discovered that even with our new pay plan which was instituted in 2004, we were not able to compete with other communities for certified and experienced police applicants.

It is my belief that this convergence -- the combination of retirements, the need to hire new officers, turnover rates, and our inability to recruit certified officers -- will begin sometime between 2007 and 2008 and will continue until at least 2010. Potentially, by 2008 and 2009 the Payson Police Department could face the prospect of having to hire as many as 18 officers to replace existing officers and to add personnel to keep up with growth.

Considering that the Payson Police Department has a total authorized strength of 31 certified police officers, the thought of having to find 18 additional qualified men and women to serve our community poses a significant challenge.

In my estimation, we can do any number of things, including choosing to do nothing and hoping that we will be able to find qualified officers, try to match dollar-for-dollar salaries and bonuses being paid by Valley law enforcement agencies, or try to go back to our roots and establish a police reserve program with the intent of creating a future hiring pool. The "do nothing" option is not the responsible choice. As our community grows and our economic viability becomes stronger, we may be able to someday be more competitive with the Valley communities in our search for qualified officers. Of course, due to the demand for people, the cost to hire a new officer increases between 5 percent and 10 percent a year.

During the 1980s, the Payson Police Department had an outstanding police reserve program that provided us not only with a hiring pool but also a pool of people who were trained and certified, with a willing desire to serve their community. These reserve officers, for the most part, were local people with roots that ran deep in our community. Today, 12 of our 31 police officers came through our reserve program. These are Commander Engler, Sgt. Todd Bramlet, Sgt. Kasl, Sgt. Faust, Sgt. Garvin, Sgt. Heflin, Sgt. Tieman, Det. Matt Van Camp, and officers Barr, Montgomery, Blalock and D'Addabbo. These officers average 14 years of police service in our community. I believe there are still people within our town who are interested in the law enforcement profession and would enjoy the opportunity to be trained locally.

I have proposed to our town council that we re-establish a police reserve academy operated under the auspices of the Payson Police Department. We estimate the cost of this academy to be about $160,000. The average cost to hire, send a cadet to a full-time police academy and field training is $40,000 per officer. If we were to only find four individuals who completed our reserve program and were subsequently hired by the Payson Police Department, we would break even. The savings to our taxpayers come from the fact that the reserve officer attends the academy on their own time. During the last few years, several of our officers that we sent to the police academy never made it past their first year. Many of our lateral officers hired by other agencies either moved on to other agencies or left our area.

The reserve academy, I believe, gives us the best option of finding and keeping a core group of officers. I proposed to the town council that we fund this academy by increasing our bed tax. I know that any tax increase is controversial and never welcomed. My thoughts are that this cost could be passed on to out-of-town visitors and tourists, who do in fact have an impact on our law enforcement services. The quality of life that we enjoy is what attracts visitors to Payson, which is directly tied to the quality and values of our police officers.

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