If you read our story in Thursday’s edition about police officials asking the city for officer raises, then you were probably just as upset as we were that something more isn’t being done for those who help keep our city safe.
“We’re not able to pay salaries to be able to get the right people in, so we’ve had to bring in some people that were questionable,” Assistant Chief of Police Kelvin Sergeant at a City Council Public Safety Committee meeting Wednesday. “We want to be able to make sure we can get the right people to do the job the right way.”
Sergeant took the department’s case to the Public Safety Committee Wednesday morning to no avail but did get approval for an increase in the clothing allowance and in vacation time. In December, Police Chief Ivan Whitfield brought the subject up at a meeting of the committee, but because only Alderwoman Thelma Walker was there, no official action could be taken.
At that time, Whitfield provided information showing that since Jan. 1, 20 officers had given their two-week notice, with six of them going to the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office. Whitfield said more recently that Pulaski County had been calling him again asking for recommendations of officers they could hire away from Pine Bluff.
A pay scale proposed by Whitfield would increase the pay of every rank up to assistant chief, with particular emphasis on patrol officers. That proposal calls for probationary officers to receive $34,000, which would increase to $35,000 in their first and second years, $36,500 in years three and four and maxing out at $48,000 after five years of service.
Sergeants would see their pay go from $49,000 to $52,000 annually, lieutenants from $53,000 to $56,000, captains from $57,000 to $60,000, deputy chiefs from $64,500 to $67,000 and assistant chief from $72,500 to $75,000.
We have written about this issue before, but it bears repeating.
We are in the middle of a campaign to move our city forward. Tax collections are finally rolling in from the Go Forward Pine Bluff five-eighths cent sales tax. There is an initiative within the Go Forward plan that addresses public safety.
Under the “first responders” section, the “strategy” says: “To retain the quality and professionalism of the Pine Bluff First Responder Force through effective recruiting, continuing education and competitive salaries.”
The plan says that the responsible party is the Go Forward Pine Bluff Corporation.
We hope that the “competitive salaries” section of this plan will be implemented soon so that we can keep quality officers on our streets in Pine Bluff. After all, what good is a rejuvenated downtown if we can’t keep people who visit it safe?
We have an excellent police department here, but we won’t be able to continue that level of excellence if other departments around the state continue to cherry-pick our best officers for better pay.
This is a major issue that has to be addressed soon. In our opinion, it’s one of the most important aspects of moving this city forward.