Winston-Salem military incentive to improve recruiting

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The City of Winston-Salem has taken a step to allow their police and fire departments to be more competitive with like departments, in an effort to improve their recruiting and retention results, by acknowledging the military services of both new and current officers.

“We definitely are concerned about our staffing,” said Assistant Chief Scott Bricker, of the Winston-Salem Police Department. “We don’t want to have it affect public safety.”

Bricker is a University of North Carolina alum, who also served in the Army in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, as an E-4 Specialist. Bricker says he was promoted to sergeant when he returned to the United States.

“Just the military in general, I think, prepares people to be excellent police officers, public servants,” Bricker said.

On Monday, the Winston-Salem City Council approved their 2017-2018 budget, at a total of $482.4 million, which included a 5 percent pay increase for military veterans who are entering or currently serve in their police and fire departments, as long as they were honorably discharged.

“North Carolina is home to some of the largest military bases on the East Coast and we need to tap into that more,” Bricker said.

When Bricker was sworn in, in 1990, he says his class was made up of 30 incoming officers.

“A little over a third of the class was military veterans,” he added.

However, Winston-Salem police say in their last three recruit classes, they only had a total of four military veterans.

Bricker said that he does not believe the 5 percent military incentive will figuratively “open the floodgates,” in terms of recruiting veterans, but it will significantly help in retention efforts. The department currently has slightly over 500 sworn officers, with 126 military veterans within their ranks, he added.

“We’re tired of losing good officers to other agencies that are close by,” Bricker said.

Prior to the passing of the budget, the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, whose president is Winston-Salem police Sgt. David Rose, said, “The Winston Salem Police Department is facing serious issues in regards to pay, recruiting and retention of experienced officers. We have seen a 60-75 percent reduction in applications for employment in part because our police officers, corporals and detectives are ranked 4th out 5 Triad agencies and 7th out of 9 agencies in the NC Market (cities over 100,000) in average pay. We lag significantly behind both markets in year-over-year salaries and an 18-year officer, on average, earns over $12,000 less than the NC Market average. We are currently operating with vacancies and projections indicate we will have 60-80 vacancies by the summer of 2018.”

The association added that by offering the 5 percent salary increase for veterans would “have immediate impact in both recruiting new personnel and retaining current employees and it would not require new tax dollars.”

Rose added that Council Members James Taylor, John Larson, Dan Besse and Vivian Burke were initial supporters of the incentive and were instrumental in moving it through the process.

The department already had an educational incentive in place, which results in a 5 percent pay increase for those with an associate’s degree and 10 percent for a bachelor’s degree. Although the department encourages officers without said degrees to go back to school, often times, it’s not possible.

“It’s stressful enough as it is, then you try to start a new career and get an education and you have a family,” Bricker said.

Bricker says the department is currently understaffed by about 20 positions. In the past, their goal was to have a recruit class of at least 30 people. However, they have recently set a rough goal of 22, which is lower than they like but more realistic in today’s society. For their incoming recruit class, which begins on Oct. 9, Bricker says they have only hired one candidate, but have 25 others who are in background. While they are hoping all 25 get through, they typically lose a few in the background stage.

The department’s current recruit class began with 19 recruits, but is currently at 14.

“If you have a desire to serve the community, come sign up for the Winston-Salem Police Department,” Bricker said.