Plan to add part-time cops gets support

A proposal to allow for the hiring of six part-time police officers gained the blessing of two different committees Tuesday – now it’s being forwarded to Salem City Council for its consideration.

The Traffic & Safety Committee and the Finance Committee, both comprised of city council members, voted to recommend the move as a means to put more police officers on the street while reducing overtime for full-time patrolmen.

The proposal included support from Mayor John Berlin, Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst, city Auditor Betty Brothers, Police Chief J.T. Panezott and the Fraternal Order of Police union which represents officers. Sgt. Brent Slider, president of the local FOP, spoke on behalf of his fellow officers.

Originally a part-timer when he started with the department, he admitted they’ll miss the overtime money, but said “what’s most important is the safety of the officers and the safety of the public. That’s what matters most.”

The union’s current contract includes a provision allowing for the use of part-time police officers so long as they’re treated as permanent part-time like the dispatchers and given regular schedules.

Slider explained that they don’t want people who are going to be used every once in a while when someone calls off. The officers trust each other with their lives and the lives of the public and it’s a lot easier to build that trust when they can get to know the part-time officers. This can also reduce stress from officers working a lot of overtime.

The idea behind having six part-time officers is to have one per shift, which will give the department an extra person on each shift, covering three shifts per day, seven days a week, helping to keep the department at the three-man minimum or above each shift. Currently if the department falls below the three-man minimum, another officer has to be called in for overtime to cover the shift. Part-timers will work 24 hours one week and 32 hours the next week for a total of 56 hours every two weeks.

Berlin explained that he asked Brothers to prepare a report on the overtime paid out in 2013 and show the cost of six part-time officers using a step system for the cost while they’re on probation, then experienced after 90 days and then senior experienced after one year. The costs were calculated based on a 28-hour work week for 52 weeks, noting they cannot average more than 29 hours per week for the year.

At a starting rate of $12.50 per hour for the first 90 days, the total cost for six was estimated at $29,094, which includes the required retirement and Medicare contributions. After 90 days, the rates will increase to $13.50 per hour and officers will receive a $150 uniform allowance, two personal days and accumulate sick leave retroactive to the first day of employment for a total cost of $106,933 for six part-time officers.

After one year, the total cost for six part-time officers will increase to $148,536, representing an hourly rate of $14.50, along with the required contributions, uniform allowance and personal days. Part-timers won’t receive hospitalization or vacation time.

Berlin said officers have the choice of cash or comp time for their overtime. Last year, the combined cost for overtime (including comp time), along with the cost for their pensions and Medicare contributions from the overtime, totaled $83,092. That figure included $4,050 paid for police overtime related to the Salem Super Cruise, which was paid through the event fund.

There will still be occasions where there may be overtime, but the mayor said the majority of the overtime should be eliminated.

He said the wage proposal makes the city competitive with other departments for part-time wages for officers.

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey questioned what type of longevity can be expected from part-time officers. Slider said treating them well makes a difference. They may be looking to use the position to get their foot in the door or they may use it as a stepping stone to another department.

They’ll be required to have Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy certification. Panezott said he would also like to require a drug test and a psychological evaluation. They’ll also do a background check. He said he’s already received some interest from qualified candidates.

In a perfect world, he said he would like to get back to 24 full-time officers, but he knows that’s not possible financially. The stats show that the department has been busier than it’s ever been and he’s proud of how the officers have stepped up. He said it’s his responsibility to get them the tools needed to do their job and what they need is more officers on the street.

Councilman Dave Nestic asked about the auxiliary police. It was explained that they’re strictly volunteers and don’t get paid. They can’t be brought in to work a shift if an officer calls off.

Both Dickey and Councilman Jeff Cushman questioned Slider about the loss of overtime and he said he talked with the other officers and they knew it wouldn’t last forever. He said the safety is more important.

Dickey commented that she wanted to make sure if they lost the overtime, the union members wouldn’t come back during negotiations later this year and ask for a big raise to compensate the loss. Slider said they’re not looking to use that as a tool. He said they’ll be requesting an increase, but nothing big. With the increased costs to health care, he said they haven’t really had an increase in their take-home pay.