Ill. Police Chief: City's Officer Salary Increase Necessary, Timely

Dec. 4, 2023
"It's about time police salaries get into range with other public service jobs," said Jacksonville's police chief of Springfield's officer salary hike of 21% over four years.

Adam Mefford was not displeased to see the city of Springfield move to increase salaries for police officers by 21% over four years.

"It's about time police salaries get into range with other public service jobs," said Mefford, Jacksonville's police chief. "The amount of training and extra things officers must do has really elevated the profession. The days of handing a recruit a badge, a gun and then going on some training runs are over. There is more testing and more oversight."

The effort validates the salary hike, he said.

"The public has demanded more professionalism in policing," Mefford said. "But the salaries are going to have to be commensurate. If you want a quality professional police force, you are going to have to pay for it."

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Springfield City Council voted Tuesday to give police officers the raise. Proponents of the move said it will help address a recruitment and retention crisis that has troubled the department for years. Springfield employs 217 officers but has a budget for 270 officers. Jacksonville is at its full strength of 41 officers.

Police Benevolent and Protective Association lawyer David Amerson said Springfield's move sets a new standard for other departments and could force them to increase pay. New Springfield officers will earn $78,800 annually by 2026.

"Why start out in Decatur for $65,000 or $70,000?" Amerson said.

Mefford is not overly concerned about there being an exodus of officers from Jacksonville to Springfield.

"We have lost one officer to Springfield in the past five years and two in the past 15 years," Mefford said. "We are not a farm club for them. We have lost more officers to the Illinois State Police. "I don't think it will affect our retention, but it could affect recruiting in the future if the most important thing to the recruit is the bottom line. The bottom line is attractive, but it's not everything."

Some potential recruits look at location, but there are other factors, Mefford said, such as cost of living, training opportunities and the condition of the facilities. Jacksonville used to have to a residency requirement to live in Morgan County, but officers now can live anywhere.

Jacksonville has been one of the higher paying police agencies in the area.

An officer starting work in Jacksonville in 2024 will start at annual salary of $59,688.72. They get a boost that puts their salary at $68,655.76 after a one-year probation period. An officer coming into the department as a lateral transfer officer would come in at the latter salary.

"In 2026, a patrol officer starting out at the police academy will be making about $62,091," Mefford said. "We have about a $9,000 increase after a one-year probationary period, so they will be at $71,397. If the officer is a lateral transfer in 2026, they would start at the $71,397 level.

"So, we are only going to be about $8,000 away. And we have a longer longevity step schedule combined with annual cost-of-living adjustments. Salaries go up fairly well after you have been here a while. Springfield is not getting the 21% overnight."

Jacksonville's latest contract calls for officers to get a 3% increase in 2024, 2% in 2025 and 2% in 2026. With steps for longevity of service, it increases by another 1% at each level.

Everyone is struggling to get recruits, Mefford said.

Springfield used to recruit more than 250 applicants a year before dropping to under 50 in the past year, contributing to an officer shortage.

Jacksonville used to get 100 but now barely get more than 25, Mefford said. Jacksonville used to offer testing every two years, but now test annually.

Mefford believes some of the circumstances will change with the next round of recruits. He pointed out new officers will enter an environment where the SAFE-T Act has always been in place. While veteran officers had a spell of uncertainty over how they would perform their jobs under the Safe-T Act, there is none of that with new officers.

"There is a lot going on here to make law enforcement an attractive career and motivate more people to get into law enforcement," Mefford said. "I think we will see some of the numbers come back. We are not seeing the increase in applicants yet. The shift forward has not caught up to the shift backward that has occurred over the past 10 years."

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(c)2023 the Jacksonville Journal-Courier (Jacksonville, Ill.)

Visit the Jacksonville Journal-Courier (Jacksonville, Ill.) at www.myjournalcourier.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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