GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Gaps in some police departments across the Triad are growing.
In Greensboro, the police department is currently looking for around 120 officers. Chief John Thompson tells FOX8 he knows his department needs a multi-faceted approach to attract and retain officers, but the first step is offering officers more money.
“In front of the city council a few weeks ago, I made it known what I felt was the appropriate compensation starting salary at $57,000 a year,” Thompson said.
On the table right now the city’s budget proposal is a 10.6% increase for salaries across the board. This brings starting salaries up to $52,459 a year.
Thompson doesn’t believe it’s enough.
“Historically, we seem to always try to catch up to what others are doing,” Thompson said. “$57,000 really helps to put us in front to be a leader not just here…but across the state.”
Thompson says neighboring departments like Burlington, Charlotte and Raleigh are consistently attracting officers.
“I don’t want to see these wage wars because, eventually, someone isn’t going to be able to pay that, and then that community is going to be without a police force, and we don’t need that either,” said Marikay Abuzuaiter, a member of the Greensboro City Council.
According to Abuzuaiter, it takes around $100,000 to train each officer on Greensboro’s force. When an officer leaves the city, in her mind, the taxpayer is also losing the money and its impact on the community.
The officers are left to carry a heavier workload with many festivals, races and concerts on the calendar.
The last two weekends the department was forced to activate dozens of officers to come in on their off days to provide security and traffic control for events.
Thompson and several lieutenants and captains filled in the gaps so other officers could get rest.
“A lot of officers look forward to that time unwinding, taking care of their family and their own mental health, and we tell them…’you have to come in and work on one of your off day,'” Thompson said. “It can really impact morale for that officer.”
The department did not have any activations this past weekend but likely will in the coming weeks and for larger events during the summer months.
Thompson knows money alone won’t fix long-term issues. He’s dedicated more time to changing small policies within the department to help morale and make officers feel like their voices are heard.
He’s also looking into alternative methods to help police respond to low-level calls.
“For us, it’s not just one answer. I’m not just coming to the public and saying ‘Hey, the cure all is $57,000 a year,” Thompson said. “If the city council said tomorrow that’s the starting salary, it’s still going to take me a year and a half, two years to get my staffing where it needs to be, but the community doesn’t have a year and a half to two years to wait.”
Abuzuaiter tells FOX8 she believes officer salaries will be a big topic of conversation in upcoming budget meetings and would like to make adjustments to get the numbers to where Thompson thinks they should be.