BY ELAINE GOODMAN
Daily Post Correspondent
Palo Alto city officials are hoping a series of pay raises for police officers over the next three years, starting with a nearly 5% pay hike this month, will help solve the ongoing challenge of recruiting and retaining cops.
Under an agreement between the city and the Palo Alto Police Officers Association, officers received a 4.75% raise starting July 1. That will be followed by a 3.45% pay increase in July 2019 and a 3% raise in July 2020.
The pay increases come as the city is struggling to fill 14 of the 83 positions represented by the PAPOA, which includes police officers, agents and sergeants.
The 17% vacancy rate is despite 10 recruitment efforts over the past year, which netted only two hires, according to a report to the council from City Manager Jim Keene.
A $25,000 hiring bonus for officers transferring from another police department, implemented in September and one of the highest in the state, also hasn’t been enough to attract more cops to work for Palo Alto, Keene said. A $10,000 hiring bonus was offered to new police-academy graduates. An official said in September that the department had 12 vacancies overall.
While in the past it’s been typical for one or two officers a year to leave Palo Alto for another police department, that number has skyrocketed. Recently 11 officers left Palo Alto over two years, including five who joined the Santa Clara Police Department.
“Increasingly, the city of Palo Alto’s neighboring jurisdictions’ police departments are aggressively recruiting experienced officers by offering higher pay, benefits and attractive assignments,” Keene wrote.
The agreement with PAPOA was on the council’s June 25 consent agenda, in which almost 30 items were voted on at the same time with minimal discussion.
Councilman Greg Tanaka voted against the contract, saying he supports efforts to try to stay competitive. But Tanaka said a 5% raise seemed excessive for officers, who he said receive an average compensation of $278,000 a year. The city’s general fund budget is only increasing 1.7% and the city manager is trying to trim $4 million from the budget, he noted.
“I think this is just absolutely the wrong thing to do,” Tanaka said. “If we are trying to cut $4 million and trying to fund the unfunded pension liability, we are going the wrong direction.”
Other cities hiring, too
Like Palo Alto, other Peninsula cities are vying to recruit cops.
In Mountain View, police officers received a 4% raise in 2017 under a June 2017 agreement, to be followed by 4% raises in 2018 and 2019. While a portion of the raises was considered a cost-of-living increase, another piece was called an equity adjustment, “in consideration of recruitment and retention challenges in the regional police labor market,” according to a report to the Mountain View council.
On a police officer recruitment section of its website, Redwood City notes that officers’ salaries range from $9,159 to $10,095 a month (which is $109,908 to $121,140 a year). Officers receive 14 paid holidays a year and two to five weeks of vacation, depending on their years of service. For officers who transfer laterally from another department, vacation time is based on years of full-time sworn law enforcement experience, and up to 200 hours of sick leave can be transferred.
In Palo Alto, in addition to the pay raises, officers now have six rather than five pay “steps” through which they can advance. Each step up brings a pay increase of about 5%.
For example, the base pay hourly rate for an intermediate officer as of July 1 is $49.37 at Step 1, increasing to $63.81 at Step 6. That works out to a pay range of $102,690 to $132,725 on an annual basis assuming 2,080 work hours in a year.
Officers receive extra pay if they are bilingual or working in the field training or K-9 programs.
Keene’s report also points to a greater stability that a three-year contract will bring to the department, which is now under the command of Chief Robert Jonsen, formerly Menlo Park’s police chief.
“In the prior negotiations, the city and PAPOA bargained but did not reach agreement for almost two years,” the report said. “It is presumed that the lack of a timely agreement and lapse in the contract contributed to the labor unrest and poor morale that negatively affected the department.”