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Bloomington police officers raise concerns of being overworked, underpaid



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Currently, the Bloomington Police Department is understaffed. Detective Jeff Rodgers said BPD officers are overworked and underpaid compared to other agencies in Indiana. Claire Livingston Buy Photos

Bloomington Police Department officers are overworked and underpaid compared to other agencies in Indiana, said Jeff Rodgers, a detective who has worked for the department for 13 years.

Management Advisory Group International Inc. conducted a study in May 2018 comparing Bloomington’s police department with those of 19 other cities in Indiana. Some of the cities included big cities such as Evansville, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, as well as cities that have populations of around 10,000 or less, such as Martinsville and Mooresville.

According to the study, the average number of police officers per 1,000 residents was about 1.7, but for Bloomington it was about 1.2 at full staffing. Rodgers said the department hasn’t been at full staffing for years.

Paul Post, senior police officer and president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, said BPD works at or below minimum staffing almost the entire year.

BPD officer Jacob Woods said this month, the department already knows 12 out of 30 of the busiest shifts, 2-10 p.m., will be understaffed. If no officer chooses to work overtime and take one of the shifts, the officer who worked the morning shift that day will have to stay for it.

Post said this creates a stressed home and work life.

“The pressure from both sides wears you down,” he said.

Post has enough seniority — 17 years of service — to have his preferred morning shift. Even so, he still makes accommodations to cover shifts when needed.

The Post family celebrates Christmas twice because he usually doesn’t get Christmas Day off. His wife and two kids travel to see extended family, and in January, the family of four celebrates the holiday together.

Rodgers said in the past, two BPD officers weren’t allowed to take summers off for their own weddings due to staffing issues.

“You have to have a break in there,” he said. “You have to be able to do personal things. Otherwise, what is the point?”

Two years ago, Woods had to miss his brother’s wedding because he couldn’t get time off. Woods said he’s also missed family reunions and Thanksgivings.

“As an officer you miss a lot,” Woods said. “When there’s a situation where you can’t take off, you miss even more.”

The 2018 study revealed the most comparable police department to Bloomington was the Lafayette Police Department. Lafayette has almost 50 more officers than Bloomington, despite Lafayette’s population being about 10,000 less than Bloomington's. Lafayette officers also get paid about $11,000 more per year than Bloomington officers.

Post said when he was hired 17 years ago, BPD was known for good pay and benefits.

Rodgers said Mayor John Hamilton has preached about giving “market competitive salaries” but hasn’t followed through.

An emailed statement from the mayor’s office said the city wants to give fair salary increases in line with raises for other city employees. It said the city needs to allocate limited funds responsibly.

The police department contracts with the city for four-year periods. Rodgers said the last competitive contract was the one for 2007-2010. He said the past two contracts have been subpar.

“It’s finally starting to come back and bite us,” Rodgers said.

Post said the police department started negotiations with the city in July of 2018. They didn’t reach an agreement by Dec. 31, 2018, for the next contract, so all terms stayed the same, with no raises nor cuts in benefits. This arrangement ends Dec. 31.

“We believe the city has offered a fair compensation package,” the statement from the mayor’s office said.

The statement said the city offered a salary increase over the next four years that is greater than the raise non-union city employees will receive in 2020 and greater than any other union employees get. The city also offered additional pay to police officers based on longevity and certifications.

Rodgers said the problem with the city’s offer was that it would only maintain Bloomington’s position in the pay rankings, not raise it.

“We’re not trying to be the highest-paid in the state, we’re not trying to be greedy, we’re not asking for more than what we’re worth,” he said.

Rodgers said recruitment and retention drive the officers’ requests.

“The city wants to keep it safe by having enough cops,” he said. “To do that, you need to increase the number of cops we have. Well, in order to do that, you have to increase salary and benefits in order to be competitive.”

Rodgers said from Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2015, 22 officers left BPD. From Jan. 1, 2016, to the present, 44 officers have left. Another officer is leaving in October, and a half-dozen more officers are actively seeking employment at other police departments.

He said if officers relocate, they’ll be paid more and won’t have to work as hard because there are more officers.

Woods said out-of-state police departments are recruiting police officers from the area.

Post said the market is right.

“If you’re an officer looking for a higher-paying job, you can find one,” he said.

Post said the department hired four more officers last week. These new hires will have to train for about eight or nine months. After, they will need to shadow a supervisor for a few weeks.

Woods said employees are expensive to take on even before they become full-fledged members because of paid training time and required equipment and uniform.

Recruitment has been down in the last few years, Post said. BPD used to get more than 100 applicants, and now they get numbers in the 30s.

Rodgers said there were 35 applicants in the last hiring cycle. He said smaller towns have more people showing up to their police departments’ hiring events: Mooresville had 58, Jeffersonville had 80, Columbus had 85, Lawrence had 143, Greenwood had 150.

Rodgers said recruiting for police officers is down nationally, but it’s clear it’s worse in Bloomington.

In the statement, the mayor’s office acknowledged the problems with municipal employee retention in Bloomington and across the country. The statement said these issues are not worse in Bloomington.

“There is no crisis in officer retention at BPD necessitating a significant pay increase,” the statement said. “Nor is Bloomington experiencing any unusual problem with recruitment.”

Woods said transferring to another city or town’s police department would be easy because he’s already certified.

“I want a future here,” he said. “But I need justification to stay.”

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