Crime - Sacto 911

Sacramento considers bonuses for police employees to discourage them from leaving

The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday will consider authorizing more than $1.37 million in one-time, lump-sum payments to Sacramento police officers, sergeants and dispatchers in a step toward stanching the loss of personnel to other agencies.

A week before talks open on a new contract, the payments send an important message to employees that “the city has decided, for once, to start negotiating in good faith,” said Timothy Davis, president of the Sacramento Police Officers Association.

“We are losing people like crazy,” Davis said.

The department has seen an exodus of 38 midcareer officers in the past two years, Davis said. So far this year, he said, nine officers have left the Sacramento Police Department, although city officials said not all of those officers left for other agencies. At that rate, he said, the department could lose 45 to 50 officers by year’s end.

A letter of understanding between the city and the Sacramento Police Officers Association calls for officers on the payroll as of March 17 to receive a one-time, lump-sum payment of $2,150. Police sergeants would receive $2,000 and dispatchers $1,000. If approved by the council, the payments would be made in March 28 paychecks, according to a city staff report.

“They deserve it,” said Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “We have a major recruitment and retention issue with city police.”

He said the move is “a sign of goodwill and good faith that we value the men and women of our Police Department.”

Councilman Larry Carr said he supports the one-time bump because Sacramento officers are paid less than those in surrounding jurisdictions.

“Our officers are underpaid,” Carr said. “Essentially what we ended up doing is being the training academy for all the other departments in the area. That’s not a sustainable situation.”

Carr noted that the police contract will be negotiated in coming months, but “in the interim, the situation was so stark that the council felt we needed to take some action to show goodwill.”

The letter of understanding is on the consent calendar, a list of agenda items that aren’t expected to generate debate and typically are approved as a group.

In August, The Sacramento Bee reported that the average total pay for a Sacramento police officer was $92,762, second lowest among eight police departments in the Sacramento region. Sacramento has the lowest pay for police among comparable cities in the state, ranking with Bakersfield, which is in a much different market, Davis said.

The department’s retention problems began when the city started requiring Police Department employees to pay a share of contributions to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, he said. Previously, the city had paid the employees’ share in lieu of raises, Davis said.

The change amounted to a 12 percent pay cut, which was mostly offset by a 9 percent raise. Still, it left Sacramento police lagging while other agencies were boosting salaries coming out of the recession, Davis said.

Through 2014, Davis said, the Sacramento Police Department typically lost three or four officers a year to other agencies. It saw that that number increase to 18 in 2015 and 20 in 2016, he said.

City Manager Howard Chan said the lump-sum payment is “a good thing, and it begins to address the pay inequity issue that we know exists … and recognize the good work the men and women of our Police Department do.”

Chan said pay isn’t the only issue affecting retention. Some surrounding departments have better retirement plans and, in some cases, require less work, he said.

The strongest competition comes from the cities of Roseville and Rocklin, and the Placer County Sheriff’s Department. The draw isn’t only salary, but also more conservative communities and governmental agencies that are seen as being more supportive of police, Davis said.

The retention problems have coincided with high-profile cases involving fatal police shootings such as the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Those cases have resulted in a negative national narrative about police that has led many officers nationwide to reassess their career choices, Davis said.

It also has resulted in a call for greater diversity in police departments, including the Sacramento Police Department. But to attract more minorities and women, Davis said, Sacramento has to offer competitive pay.

“Until they address salary, it’s all talk,” he said. “We agree that we should be a diverse department, and we want to get there.”

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy