Recruiting and Retention

Scott Nicholas
Vice President

Two of the hardest parts of establishing and maintaining a great police department are how to recruit quality officers and then, once you have them, how to keep them.

We all know one of the first things we look at when applying for a job is the starting pay and the topped-out pay offered by the department. On the surface, this will always be one of the most important criteria we look at, followed by benefits such as time off, health insurance, retirement benefits, contributions to these benefits, cost of living to include home prices, taxes, state taxes and property taxes, just to name a few.

Maybe when we were younger, we had to decide between working at Jack in the Box, which paid $7 an hour, and Starbucks, which paid less per hour but with shared tips. Not much thought went into the decision because you knew you could always change it up with little to no training.

Applying for a career in law enforcement is not the same. The decision to begin a grueling process of testing, background examination, psychological evaluation, polygraph and eventual academy training can be one of the biggest decisions in your life.

Now add in the knowledge that you will never be rich from this choice of career and that you are making a commitment to risk your life every day for people who may or may not respect officers at all. Not to mention you may have to relocate from another city or state, uproot your family from lifelong friends and family members, and the cost both mentally and financially.

So let’s say you are successful in the hiring process, and you make it through the academy training and the field training. Now, every day you are doing the same thing over and over (Groundhog Day), trying to be proactive and doing what you are trained to do, and hoping that you don’t violate one of the 5,000 department policies so you don’t get a suspension or get fired, all while providing public safety.

As you look into the future while still hoping to get ahead of your payments and maybe one day make enough money to buy a house or a new car, you realize that unless you promote or work overtime, you may be looking at a long road before you are able to do either of those things in today’s economy and on an officer’s salary. This might make you start to re-evaluate your decision.

So we apply, test, get evaluated, scrutinized, hired, trained (abused, LOL), trained some more, given a badge, take an oath and then released to perform our duties while on 18 months of double-secret probation, only to wonder if you will make it home safe at night.

All this in hopes of making a decent living for your family. All this knowing you will have a cap on your income as long as you are employed. Does this sound appealing when you add in how many liberal politicians would rather see you in prison than the person who was committing the crimes in their neighborhoods?

This is all in large part why recruiting qualified candidates in this country has become so difficult. So why do it? Many qualified candidates are not testing for law enforcement for all those reasons. So not only are we having recruiting problems nationwide, we are also having retention problems for many of those same reasons. Why be in law enforcement when you can make unlimited money in real estate or some other career that you don’t risk your life for every day?

So now we have to ask ourselves, how do we retain the officers we’ve recruited, hired and trained who, not to mention, have the experience needed to fight against crime while not violating anyone’s rights and protecting the Department from civil litigation?

Unfortunately, the answer is … it comes back to money, pay and benefits, and even a little bit of respect and understanding from our Department when we make a mistake that was not intentional. These will always be major factors in recruiting and retention of quality officers. LVMPD needs to start looking into the future on how to retain the best police officers in the nation to help protect our community and our tourism. LVMPD needs to be more proactive instead of reactive, and we need to start now!

One way the Department can help recruit new candidates is to increase the starting pay for new officers when they come out of the Academy, kind of a kick-start once they walk across the stage. Step 3 now becomes the new Step 1 and goes to Step 10.

The next thing the Department can do is institute the longevity pay for officers at the five-year mark in their careers. Going back to the way it was when I was hired by Metro, we all received 2.5% at five years and .5% every year after until we reached 15%. This is one of the most important benefits that needs to be re-established for our commissioned employees. You want them to stay? Pay them!

Increased time off, sick leave, vacation leave and bonus leave caps all need to be increased to help the retention problems we face today. Officers need incentives to stay in the most dangerous career in the world. When there is an incentive to stay longer, most will do just that. If there is no incentive to stay longer, most will not, and we see it every day in the separation notices where officers are leaving this career earlier and earlier every year.

When I moved to Las Vegas to work for Metro 22 years ago, housing was $80 per square foot and electric, gas and property taxes were cheap, and given that no state income taxes or Social Security were taken out of my check, it made a lot of sense to move across the country and hire on with Metro instead of other departments around the country. Now, I’m not too sure I would do it, considering all those same factors. I’m sure a lot of other people are feeling the same way, and that is why we need to make changes soon, not only in pay and benefits, but also in our government.

Here is one of the funniest (dumb funny, not ha-ha funny) things that LVMPD fights in our contract negotiations: sick leave caps. When I started with Metro, we were only allowed to cash out 1,000 hours of sick leave at a percentage based on years of service. Today, we have a cap of 1,250. So what happens when an employee has 1,800 hours of sick time and is getting close to retirement? Well, one of the options is they start burning that balance back down to 1,250, or they take the last three to four months off sick.

Here is the math that taxpayers would lose their minds over if they knew our financial folks from City and County were knowingly allowing this to cost them huge money.

Most cash out for sick time is between 50% and 75% of the total hours saved. Hypothetically, if they cashed me out at 75% of 1,800 hours, I would be paid 1,350 hours at my current rate of pay, including shift differential. So let’s say $46 times 1,350 hours equals $62,100. This is $18,975 more than the capped 1,250 hours that contract allows today.

However, if I were to take the 550 hours off on sick leave, I would be paid a full salary of $25,300, including them paying 44% into my PERS account, my health insurance, more accrued vacation time and the rest of the roll up that Metro pays for each employee. So I added $11,132 to my retirement at Metro’s expense, and I received free health care that would have cost me almost $900 per month. Instead, it cost them $900 per month, or another $3,000, and I’ve added even more time to my vacation sell back that is paid at an even higher rate than sick cash out — worth about $2,600.

This total cost taxpayers $23,000, plus the additional amount of money in overtime because I would be holding a funded position that would need to be backfilled with an overtime officer until I retired, plus other roll-up costs not like life insurance, workers’ compensation, etc. The overall total probably reaches $40,000 to $50,000. All this so they can give the illusion that they are saving the taxpayers money by lowering a little bigger cash out, and hoping to screw the employee who apparently came to work every day for 20 years by taking away another incentive to stay and build a bigger cash out.

Thank you for your membership, and please stay safe.