LORAIN — Lorain police are getting a 3 percent raise after a conciliation ruling last month.
Following arbitration between Lorain’s Fraternal Order of Police and the city, a ruling was issued March 15 to give the officers the raise, in hopes of retaining officers in the already short-staffed department.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3 represents all Lorain police personnel, except for Capt. Roger Watkins and Chief Cel Rivera. FOP President Kyle Gelenius said while the ruling doesn’t fully address the department’s staffing crisis, it is a step in the right direction.
“Our authorized strength is 113 officers, currently we’re dipping into the high 80s, which we haven’t been this low in staffing in a long time,” he said. “Moreover, I think we only have seven dispatchers when they’re authorized strength is 20, so cops are being pulled from the road to work in radio or they’re spending an exorbitant amount of overtime to cover the staffing crisis in the police department.”
According to the conciliation ruling, Rivera testified other police departments in Lorain County have provided a 2.91 percent annual raise, and that his officers continue to make about 15 percent less than other officers in the county. The union went on to testify in the report that Lorain officer with three years of experience makes $4,400 less than their Amherst counterparts, with the disparity growing to $7,000 less after five years. After three years on the force, a Lorain police officer makes $7,000 less than a three-year deputy with the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office.
Gelenius said the Lorain Police Department compared its pay to cities of similar size, including Euclid, Parma, Springfield, Lakewood and Elyria.
“With those comparables, I think we’re the lowest still,” he said.
The 3 percent raise is retroactive to Jan. 1. It takes a new officer’s starting salary from $17.98 an hour, according to Gelenius, to $18.52 an hour — a more than $1,100 bump a year. The raise does not apply to dispatchers, who are part of a separate union.
Mayor Chase Ritenauer said the department’s needs are compelling, including its loss of officers to higher-paying cities.
“From the city’s standpoint, we’ll make sure that we have the funding covered, but again I think the police department is different in some of the other departments in the challenges it’s facing right now,” he said. “I think the 3 percent reflects that.”
He went on to say the extra cost could be paid for out of the general fund, as the city already had budgeted a 1 percent raise, and the extra 2 percent would be between $150,000 to $200,000 — if that.
Gelenius said he found a possible $154,000 savings for the department by reducing some inside staff training by two hours a month. Inside staff includes detectives, narcotics and traffic.
“For example, I’m an eight-hour employee, as a detective, so every month they make every inside eight-hour employee work a 10-hour training day to mirror the road patrol,” Gelenius explained. “If they eliminated the requirement for the detectives having to work two hours over every training day, that equates to the savings that we were able to point out.”
Ritenauer said the department’s staffing need further supports an incentive program he announced at his State of the City address in February. He proposed offering a $10,000 signing bonus for those committing to five years on the force, and giving officers their full pay rate when they start, rather than stepping it up after their probation has ended. The incentive would need to be approved by Council.
As a statutory city, Lorain police can only hire people from its civil service list. Ritenauer said once the list is exhausted, they will be able to make “exceptional appointments” until a new civil service test is given.
“I think we have to bring in officers immediately,” he said. “I don’t think we can wait. We want officers who don’t need training, and in order to do that you’re going to get them from other cities like other cities are getting their officers from us.”
Whatever the staffing solution, Gelenius just hopes elected officials realize what is going on in the city ahead of this fall’s contract negotiations. The current contract, which includes this 3 percent raise, runs out Dec. 31.
“We’re hemorrhaging cops, we need to do something. If they continue to not want to pay us an equitable raise, they can expect to lose more cops. … We have an uptick in violent crime, for example. … there’s been a drive-by shooting on 29th Street twice in the last two days that I’m aware of. So we’re coming into the summer season, our staffing is not adequate so the citizens can expect less cops on the road and longer wait times to respond to calls. Basically, we can expect to lose more officers due to our, quite frankly, inadequate pay. I hope our elected officials realize this and do something about it and going into negotiations this fall, I hope they don’t put up a fight.”