Durham’s boys in blue are about to get some more green.
The Durham City Council on Monday night approved a pay increase for Durham officers and firefighters boost recruitment and retention. It’s the first pay adjustment in eight years for the city’s first responders.
The change shifts the city’s salary schedule to be more competitive with other cities. Police recruits will see their pay rise from $33,000 to $37,029 and fire recruits from $33,000 to $34,388. With 482 police officers and 298 firefighters, the increase will cost the city about $3.6 million annually.
The city began looking at raising police and firefighter pay this summer and hired consulting firm Segal Waters to study “the City’s sworn salary structures for market competitiveness and internal equity.” In reviewing pay in eleven towns in North Carolina and Virginia, the firm found that Durham’s salaries were below the market average and lower than some nearby jurisdictions that have lured some Durham first responders.
According to the city, police turnover during the last year was at about 10 percent, and last month, Chief CJ Davis said there were about sixty vacancies in her department. Raleigh offers police recruits about $34,000, while Cary and Charlotte offer closer to $40,000.
Turnover at the fire department has been low since the last pay increase.
“One cost of turnover is the loss of training investments made in personnel who then leave to work for competing cities,” a memo outlining the plan says. It costs the city about $55,000 to train a police officer and about $53,000 for a firefighter.
Each year, first responders will be eligible for a 5 percent merit-based raise, up from 3 percent. The city’s 2016–17 budget funded twenty new officer positions.
The new pay structures also adds the ranks of senior patrol officer and senior firefighter “to recognize the execution of higher level duties such as providing training assistance and guiding new employees.”
Mark Simmons, founding member of police reform group Ceasefire Durham, says the old pay rates weren’t enough to hire and keep the quality officers Durham needs to improve public safety and police-community relations.
“These officers earn about thirty-three thousand dollars,” he says. “You can’t live on that.”
The change takes effect retroactively starting January 21.