Small- and mid-sized towns often have a police problem — not one of mismanagement, ineffectiveness or corruption.
Like business owners struggling to keep the balance sheet in line, police departments often pay their officers average salaries that aren’t in line with either the rising cost of living or representative of the life-and-death situations they may face on any given day.
It’s a subject this page has mentioned often in recent months: In Anniston, starting pay for rookie officers is in the $28,000 range, per the department’s website. That’s decent money we wouldn’t laugh at — but it’s not a competitive living wage for men and women with families, kids and mortgages who in many cases have options about which police department employs them.
Anniston should do better than that.
Attorney General Strange came to Anniston Thursday to speak at the graduation ceremony for this latest class of the Northeast Alabama Law Enforcement Academy. Sixty trainees graduated from the program. Four of them are with the Anniston Police Department.
We point this out because it’s long been common knowledge that the pay scale for Anniston Police is a hindrance to the department’s retention of officers. Police work, in effect, is a competitive business. Officers want to get paid and often will move to another city where pay is better.
That subject even came up at Thursday night’s political forum for Ward 4 City Council candidates during a question concerning Anniston’s crime rate, with candidate Millie Harris saying she had spoken to Anniston Chief Layton McGrady about the issue.
“It takes two years to train a police person,” Harris said. “By the time they have been with us for two years, they’re out the door for better pay.”
That’s one of the long-standing problems for Anniston Police. Hiring and training good, young officers is one thing. But retaining them is a different animal. And when Annistonians — and Anniston politicians — talk about helping the police department, that’s an area that should be near the top of the list.
We’re not naïve to the fiscal realities, however. Anniston’s budget is like the state’s; it’s not overflowing with extra cash. The city has recently dealt with the problematic pension fund for the city’s police and fire departments, and it is building a $15 million justice center to replace the archaic building and jail McGrady’s officers use today.
That’s progress for Anniston police.
Budget-wise, it might be impossible for the incoming City Council to aggressively increase the starting pay for Anniston’s young officers. But anything that would help the retention of the officers trained by Anniston police would be a positive step.