City Can’t Hire Cops

Try as they might, Charlottesville can’t seem to attract any police officers, Kate Harmon reports in today’s Daily Progress. The starting salary of $33,904, along with a $5,000 signing bonus, has snared a grand total of one police officer in two years. The city has seven vacancies now, so now they’re trying to entice cops to commute from Waynesboro.

The reason for the problem is pretty clear: housing costs. The median cost of a home in the city is $280k and $311k in the county. That’s a monthly mortgage, insurance and property tax bill of just a hair under $2,000/month, or about 80% of the officer’s post-tax income. Hell no.

57 thoughts on “City Can’t Hire Cops”

  1. I think the $5,000 signon bonus is a one time thing, it’s not payable every year? And having seven vacacies is a half-truth. They also have 8 in training to fill those 7 vacancies. A police officer affording a home here in Charlottesville is just a very very small percentage of the housing problem. What about all the other people out there that are only making $8 to $10 an hour? They have the same American Dream, owning a home. But they don’t whine about it to the press every day while police officers start at $16.30 an hour (based on a $33,904 annual salary).

  2. When we did the first community plan for Crozet in 1993 there was a statement in the plan to the effect that all new developments should include some affordable housing. From then on members of the community appeared at every new development to ask where the affordable housing was. It got so bad one of our local residents, an artist, took the time to draw a picture of what a proposed new development would look like with affordable housing. That development was Gray Rock, which ended up with zero affordable units. Old Trail is supposed to have 15 percent affordable housing, but to date I’m not sure this mandate is being met. More importantly, affordable housing units were supposed to be built into the fabric of the development. This doesn’t mean you find the least attractive piece of land in the development and that’s where it goes. It means every street should include affordable units.

  3. Crozet, there is no affordable housing anywhere. Because of taxes and inflated values, even a small bungalow in the Hogwaller and Belmont area of the city now sells for $225,000 to $250,000. And this isn’t just a regional problem, it’s a national problem. The government (and taxes) got so large the average working citizen can’t afford much with their leftover net income.

  4. Perhaps if the city wasn’t so busy erecting “art in place” or taking trips to Tuscany on the tax payer’s dime, they could offer police officers a decent salary. What person is going to take 33,000 a year when they are going to spend it all on housing?

  5. Yeah, houses are expensive, but so is rent! What about all the greedy, absentee landlords? They’d love to run a drop cord out to the tool shed in the backyard and charge a student $500 a month for that if the city would let ’em.

  6. Let’s just make everything affordable! We can mandate a “living wage,” freeze rent and mortgage payments, and cap gas and food prices while we’re at it. Then we can give everyone free health care and subsidize cars, high speed Internet access, and massage therapy for those unable to pay for it themselves!

  7. Falstaff,

    The question of how much we pay police officers is not a socialist issue. They are our employees. If we can’t attract enough new employees to fill the positions that we need to offer them enough money to make the job worthwhile to them. That’s capitalism, not socialism.

  8. Cops in general simply don’t make a lot of money. It’s not a job you go into to get paid.

    Should that change? Sure. But the problem is a lot deeper, wages have not risen with the bubbles in our economy to keep up .. not just cops, but so many other professions, are just priced out now. Even with the housing bubble popping, wages in most places just can’t make up the difference.

  9. Jackson,

    I agree, but you’ll note the converstion shifted from police officers’ salaries to affordable housing. I’m all for raising cops’ pay to a level commensurate with what’s needed to attract and retain good people to fill the jobs, but we can’t rejigger the price of everything to make it happen.

  10. Falstaff, the conversation started off about police officer salaries and affordable housing. It didn’t shift. :)
    I worry moreso about the older retired senior citizens who now face a monthly tax bill that’s higher than the final and last mortgage payment they made on on their homes years ago. A monthly tax bill that’s almost half of their social security check. Some of them can’t even afford to keep what they already own. Now we need to raise taxes even more, so as to give police officers a chance to buy their first homes in the city? Nobody twisted their arms and made them take a $33,900 a year job as a police officer. Most of them begged for the job! Years ago people became police officers to help other people. Now it seems to be all about the money and benefits. That’s my 2 cents worth.

  11. This piece is quite wrong. They cannot get “certified” officers. They have had an increase in applicants and have about 10 trainees in the wings, but not “certified” officers.

    Although, I agree. Like the military, police officers do not get paid enough for what they do.

  12. The $33 K is a base salary and doesn`t include overtime and I think there is a lot of it. I think it includes perks as in use of the City car off duty (not sure of this nor do I know who pays for the gas). Every little bit helps. Not to say that is a munificent salary but it beats hamburger flipping.

    That $33 K is in many cases one half or other fraction of a household income. I think most couples trying to buy a home have dual incomes.

    I don`t mean to take sides in the salary issue, rather to make the point when evaluating income there a are many considerations.

    I will also make the point, goals, as in buying a home, are worth sacrificing for – that includes living not so “large” (right down to the $4.00 Lattes) for a year or two. one can save a lot, and two, quite a lot if the effort is made.

    Should it be easy for everyone to buy a home “right out of college” or other training? Sure, but it isn`t.

    The goal of a home for everyone – immediately , if not sooner, is laudable but not realistic.

    I am intrigued by the “the thinking/planning mode” project to mix “middle class” housing with housing for the less fortunate. I am curious as to where the project is to mix middle class with “O so wealthy housing”. Seems only fair but hasn`t surfaced to date.

  13. Should it be easy for everyone to buy a home “right out of college” or other training? Sure, but it isn`t.

    The goal of a home for everyone – immediately , if not sooner, is laudable but not realistic.

    Well, there goes the rental market.

    I don’t think home ownership should necessarily be something that is ‘easy’ to get. You need work to earn it, you aren’t ‘entitled’ to a house, any more than I’m entitled to a shiny red fire truck.

  14. It’s Amazing How Many People Think That They Should Be In A Position Of Buying Similar Homes Like Their Parents Right Out Of College. It Takes Hard Work, Saving & Time To Get There. Everyone Wants Something For Nothing Nowadays And They Expect It To Fall In Their Laps. Keep In Mind That Those Who Live Content With Little Possess Everything….JC

  15. The way I see it, part of the problem relates to Charlottesville’s small size. We moved here from a much larger city and were accustomed to having a variety of neighborhoods with a corresponding variety of housing costs. It was a bit of a shock to see the limited selection of available housing in the city with no affordable neighborhoods to fall back on. While visiting my hometown of Buffalo, NY this summer, I was really struck by the wealth of blue collar–i.e. respectable, yet affordable–neighborhoods there that don’t seem to exist here in C’ville.

  16. teachers right out of school make 40k, I can’t imagine either job is easy.

    If there aren’t enough people take the job, we aren’t paying enough.
    Either we are fine with less police (possible) or we need to pay more(likely).

  17. Just a little patience, yeah, yeah…Oh sorry, got lost in a GNR reflection. There used to be low cost “blue collar” neighborhoods in C’ville, such as Belmont. But then things got so “trendy” that now you can buy a $500,000 penthouse on Douglas Ave. I remember when I first moved to C’ville from Richmond back in 1994 to work at COMDIAL and I rented a place on Douglas Ave. and one morning some hungover redneck wanted to kick my ass because I was on my way to work wearing a suit and tie for a meeting. He yelled, “You in Belmont now boy”. Ah, those were the good ol’ days.

  18. Maybe the city should purchase a group home for police officers or make a bunk bed room in the station? This would be a great way to attract good officers who feel like we’re the sort of people and this is the sort of place they’d put their lives on the line for.

    This is a simple equation of supply, demand, and priorities, much like the way we run our houses. Imagine that you need toilet paper but you only want to spend fifty cents, so you get less toilet paper than you need. The other toilet paper will go to homes that can pay more. If you decide that you really need toilet paper, then you pay what others are willing to pay. You then budget for it and get rid of other things that are not necessary. You don’t want to have a house with a beautiful knocker on the front door (art in place, trip to Italy, etc…), but nothing to clean up with when there’s a dirty job to do.

  19. Hey, who’s deriding it? I just inferred that they have a lot of programs like the person posting in the thread before was referring to. I would like to cruise on a fjord and tour Oslo and so forth. In fact, I’m thinking about checking out the Web for a Norwegian girl friend. Then maybe we could get married and I could become an expatriate and not have to worry about Social Security going bankrupt, or not having any health care when I get older, etc.

  20. And having seven vacacies is a half-truth. They also have 8 in training to fill those 7 vacancies.

    Uh. I’m pretty sure that’s wrong. I think the point of that bit in the article was that there are eight officers who have been hired, but they’re still in training, and there are seven separate vacancies. If there were seven vacancies with eight people already in training to fill those vacancies, it’d seem to me that they have too many cops. And that’s not news.

    If there aren’t enough people take the job, we aren’t paying enough.
    Either we are fine with less police (possible) or we need to pay more(likely).

    That’s absolutely right — you’ve cut to the core of it. This has nothing to do with socialism — it’s straight-up capitalism.

  21. Could be, Waldo. I’m not sure. Even if they have 8 in training plus 7 vacancies, they better get use to it. It will probably get worse. A shiny badge, pretty car with flashing lights and police work just aren’t as attractive as they used to be to a lot of young people.

  22. With new construction, why can’t there be some hybrid bond/lien thing (sorry, I don’t have a better noun) for our police and firefighters and teachers and whoever else we deem critical? The developer creates 20 housing units: four of which are designated as ‘affordable’ and which are sold at cost to fill-in-the-blank-space-category-of-people. However. The developer would retain a certain interest in the bit that would have been profit if it had sold at market value. When the owner sells, the developer is returned the profit plus an appropriate percentage of whatever increase in value has occurred since the initial ‘sale’. If not the developer retaining a financial interest, is possible for the city government or a non-profit to do it? Real estate is a great investment, isn’t it?

    As an aside, if minimum wage had kept up with inflation, it would be about $14/hour now. So if we’re starting our police officers off at a little over $16/hour, it really isn’t much over (what should be) minimum wage.

  23. Elizabeth, whoever we deem critical? How about the single mom working at McDonalds for $7.00 an hour? What about the dad delivering your new furniture and making $10 an hour? Perhaps the public works employee standing in knee deep mud and water on a cold winter day replacing a broken water main and making $12.00 an hour? They need assistance a lot more than cops, teachers and firefighters do. The above examples I mention probably outnumber cops, teachers and firefighters 500 to 1. They should have first choice of the “affordable” units you suggest. There would never be any units left for cops, teachers and firefighters. Unless a clause was in place to exclude anybody making less than $16.00 an hour or more than $30 an hour.

  24. Thank you, Cynic. I have a lot of sympathy for the work force out here making $7, $10 and $12 an hour. They do just as much for me as cops, firefighters and teachers do. Probably more. And it will a cold day down below before I place professions making $16 to $30 an hour up on a pedastal and claim they need assistance.

  25. Supposedly there are 102 officers on duty, 8 in training and 7 vacancies to total the alloted 117 slots.
    $280k is the MEDIAN price of a home that sold in Cville last year. That mean 50% sold for more than that and 50% sold for less. I guess the police, teachers and firemen will have to buy on the less side. When Rittenhouse was chief, he reported to our neighborhood association that he took a survey of his officers and only three said they would be willing to live in the City. The rest said they feared for the safety of their families at home and school. Whtether it was true or not, it makes sense to me. Jim Tolbert presented a map of the residences of city and school employees which showed a large number living in the surrounding counties. High paid city and school employees are required to live in the city. I suspect that they would live else where if they could. I don’t know why people assume everyone wants to live where he works. If that were true, nobody would be living in the many subdivisions circling the city because there are no jobs there. The government providing welfare for “affordable” housing is insulting to everybody and most of these people will have no part of it. As it stands now, many city residents work in the surrounding counties and many county residents work in the City. And it’s by choice.

  26. Who do ‘we’ deem critical? ‘We’, meaning our local government, should deem the folks the government needs to hire and retain as ‘critical’ — so that would include the $12 public works guy. If the concept were launched as a non-profit rather than a government program the definitions could include the $7 McDonald’s worker and the $10 furniture delivery guy.

    I guess my question here is really: is this a feasible idea? Why couldn’t a non-profit partner with individuals in an LLC that buys a house: the LLC defines the exact nature of the partnership in percentages and responsibilities. An option for the individual(s) to buy-out the non-profit — at an appropriate increase in value — sometime in the middle of the property ownership should be included in the contract. Alternately, when the home is sold the non-profit gets its percentage of the sale that it can re-invest. It’s a long-term concept to manage, but I’m a bit tired of nobody thinking past the next quarter. Really, it could also be a profit making venture for a long-term investment. Am I proposing a ridiculous idea here or a brilliant one?

  27. Rittenhouse wasn’t as big a fool as I thought he was either. As soon as he retired he had his retirement checks forwarded to Augusta County where he could buy a $250,000 home that would have cost $400,000 to $450.000 in the city or county here. This will sure make his $5,000 a month retirement check go further.

  28. In today’s Progress-

    Charlottesville ended fiscal 2007 with a $6.7 million surplus thanks to a strong local economy and more revenue than expected from real estate and car taxes.

    City staff is proposing that $5 million of the surplus be set aside to pay for a new Smith pool center, with most of the remaining money given to the school system to upgrade technology in classrooms.

    But lets not pay the cops/firefighters/teachers anything….

  29. Every year the City seems to have a surplus. The disposition of those funds do not go through a regular budgeting process as in the spring. The City Manager makes a recommendation and the Council takes about a week to figure out how to spend it and it’s never clear exactly what it’s beging spent on. At least this year it’s clearer.
    Elizabeth, you are describing the projects by Piedmont Housing Alliance on Hinton AV, Starr Hill and 10th and Page almost to a “T.” Kick in the downpayment program sponsored by the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors and it’s your program almost exactly. I have read that one teacher and one police officer has taken advantage of the program in order to purchase housing in the City. could it be that people are trying to solve a problem (public servants wanting to live in the city) that doesn’t exist?

  30. Cville Eye, if I recall correctly, police officers not being able to afford housing locally was something the Charlottesville Police Association came up with when asking for raises. I think you’re right, it’s a problem that doesn’t exist. Even if cops were given a 15% raise this year not many would buy housing in the city in which they work. The teachers and firefighters probably use the same excuse when seeking a raise.

  31. Now, that you mention it, (this is why I like blogs) I do remember the rhetoric. I remember laughing with a police office (now retired) about how many officers that lived in the City. Every one of them has retired now, so maybe the salaries have not kept up with the cost of living. Nor has a lot of people’s and as someone said earlier, who do you give priority to? Thanks.

  32. I don’t think they would even want to live in the City anyway. I know I wouldn’t if I were a cop here.

  33. Despite the fact that salaries and affordable housing have been thrown together in this blog, the police shortage really comes back to simple economics. Not many want to be police officers for $34,000, regardless of where you live.

    Demopublican, with teachers, it’s the same story: supply and demand. Clearly, teacher shortages, both present and forecast, are based partly on the reality that salaries have not kept pace with expectations of and demands on teachers. This is why new teachers last about three years and many leave our system before that. It’s just not worth it.

  34. Bob, most don’t want to live in the city. The problem with this — having cops driving into Charlottesville to work — is they have no clue where they are going when calls are dispatched to them. This creates a delay in response time while the officers ask the dispatch center for “cross streets” as reference points, arrive in the area after being given the cross streets near where they are suppose to be going, and then actually looking for the address where they are needed. Wish I had $10 for every time a Charlottesville police officer has had to ask for directions to where they are responding.

  35. I’ve noticed that enrollment in forensic studies has increased with the glamor of the TV shows like CSI. Perhaps Charlottesville needs to work on a different image for public service. Then, again, the employees themselves will just decry it, so it’s not worth the bother and money.

  36. I disagree Demo- they wouldn’t have to live here to know the streets. If they are working here and driving around for 8 or more hours each day then they will learn the streets. Residency doesn’t make that an automatic fix. Cops I know (that don’t live here) choose not to because of the high cost of living and (get this–) Charlottesville is “full of itself”. I tend to agree on both of those statements!

  37. As I recall in this past election for sheriff, Albemarle county, there was one county deputy who was seeking nomination to the sheriffs office who owned a horse ranch/farm in orange county and a piece of rental property in Albemarle county. Doesn’t sound like he has done to bad on a deputy sheriff’s salary.

    Hiring, retaining police and duputy sheriffs has nothing to with pay in my opinion. I believe it is the day in, day out grind of dealing with the public, both the criminal element in society and the everyday normal john que public. Then you add in the rotating work shifts and you have a receipe for burnout.

    When you add in the base salary and overtime for our police you will see that most of them make a very good living. Most of them make a lot more than they would be making if they worked anywhere else around this area.

  38. Jogger, that sure sounds like the sort of job that one would want to be paid decently for doing. If it’s such a great deal, why isn’t there a line around the block, full of people vying to become police officers?

  39. Cynic, there are no lines because most young people think their past records and/or drug use disqualifies them. While this was the case a decade or two ago, it’s not true any longer. Departments nationwide are lowering their standards to attract these people who feel they aren’t eligible for employment.

  40. I know I must be nuts, given how strongly you all feel about this, but it sure seems they’d be attracted to a higher salary. Most people are. I guarantee you that, if lawyers earned just $34,000 a year, we’d have a shortage of them as well. Has anyone tested higher salaries as an attractant? We’ve tried low salaries, and that hasn’t seemed to work.

  41. Where would the money come from if we raised the starting salary to $45,000 a year for new recruits? Combined with the fact you would have to at least raise everybody else’s salary that isn’t making $45,000 a year currently. To compound the problem even further, a new recruit would be making as much as somebody with 10 years on the job already? Higher starting salaries is a very complex solution.

  42. It’s not yet a question of where the money would come from; it’s a question of where does the money go? I guess I’m agreeing with C-ville Eye on this one (but just this one). Let’s prioritize. If it’s important, let’s pay for it. There is no point in paying for wants when we have needs to pay for. If we need police, let’s pay for them. If we want trips to Italy or art in place, forget it. It’s simple economics and it’s no different than running a household.

  43. NYPD has the right idea. Reward those who hire on and stay on. NYPD only starts at #25,100 annually. But the salaries go up fast thereafter.

    Police Academy (first six months): $25,100 (Annualized)
    Upon completion of six months: $32,700
    Upon completion of 1 ½ years: $34,000
    Upon completion of 2 ½ years: $38,000
    Upon completion of 3 ½ years: $41,500
    Upon completion of 4 ½ years: $44,100
    Upon completion of 5 ½ years: $59,588

    I doubt Charlottesville could or would be able to pay $60,000 after 5 1/2 years of service though. Plus $60,000 a year in New York is probably comparable to $35,000 to $40,000 in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

  44. Interesting, demopublican. Things can take on a different light when seen from different angles (New Yorkk). I believe (but haven’t kept up) that there are differentials in police salaries locally, depending upon experience, training and certifications, and rank. I don’t know by what amounts. A lot of officers work a lot of overtime, presumably out of necessity. Teachers have step (similar to years), and degree differentials. They have to take on additional duties such as coaching or sponsoring clubs or to become non-teachers, like coordinators, to earn more pay. I have no idea what differentials there are for firemen. Perhaps, requiring them to have EMS training is thought of as a way for them to earn more. Locally, I believe, police still have to retire at 60. That alone is enough to cause me not to seek that line as a career, if I was young enough to do so. Heap on a lot of criticism by the public and even more people will find those professions undesirable.

  45. A lot of local officers work a lot of overtime because they want to and because it’s easy money. Stand around, look good, and collect the money. The John Paul Jones arena keeps a lot of ’em fat. A lot of apartment complexes hire them for additional security. Book stores. Merchants. Even the water treatment plant has off duty cops as security. Plenty of overtime, plenty of easy money.

  46. Although I’ve never thought of guarding against potentially armed crooks “easy money,” maybe working so many hours for that week in the Bahamas keeps them out of trouble and away from the families and divorce court. Yes, I’m being a little snide here because I don’t think you will be particularly offended, but somewhat amused at word choice.

  47. I know quite a few CPD and CFD folks. The main issue the City needs to work on are a step pay system. They used to have merit based pay steps but now everyone gets the same pay raise no matter their work output. There are a lot of hardworking folks with advanced skills such as a detective or a firefighter with advanced medical skills making the same pay raise as a regular cop or firefighter that does not perform such added duties. They do have career ladders such as Master Police Officer and career firefighter, but guess what? The city takes that money away when you retire, unlike many other departments, including Albemarle County. So, detectives and career firefighters end up retiring at the same rate that patrol officers and regular firefighters do. Plus there is no educational incentive pay like many departments have. In other words, there is no incentive to do any more than what is absolutely necessary.

  48. I believe nixed the idea of hiring a new “customer service” overseer. If it puts a stop to hiring a new assistant city manager, that total savings of approx. $200,000 could be used to address some of jeeperman’s revelations. After all, the City Manager has a COO/CFO working for him. Why does he need another administrator?

  49. Sorry, Council did the nixing. I am puzzled why our seemingly capable department heads need another layer of high-priced supervision.

  50. Oh, I know. To supervise the employees’ production of the new, super-glossy, City-distributed calendars called Charlottesville Cares 2008. People in my neighborhood found them under their curbside recycling bins in a plastic bag. It’s a shame the city employees who live out of the jurisdiction will have to pick them up at work, but at least they won’t have to pay for them. I hope all of the police officers won’t forget to pick them up, so that they can be reminded everyday that “Charlottesville Cares.”

  51. If you want more money get yourself promoted, you know work hard, lock up criminals, don’t abuse sick leave, and have a real education not one of those b.s. online degrees cops always get, Master Police Office and Master Firefighter are made up positions for lazy dumbasses who can’t get themselves promoted. It just makes the veteran officers feel like they are somebody and cuts down on their bitching, but most of the rookies just laugh at them…being a cop or a firefighter is a great job. One of the few left with a pension, and no worries of being laid off. It can get dangerous, but no more than working on a highway road crew for a lot less money and no pension…I loved every minute of being a cop, and felt fortunate to be one. The cops around here have it made, most of them will never see anything in their career, a cop in a big city sees in a week. Being a hallway safety monitor in New York public schools is a more stressful job.

  52. Indeed: the calendars would be a SNL sketch if they hadn’t been printed at taxpayer expense. For me the worst part is that the calendars indicate a complete disconnect between the city hall water cooler and the taxpayers.

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