Local News

Officer shortage strains Raleigh police force

Posted November 10, 2008 10:52 p.m. EST
Updated November 11, 2008 11:30 a.m. EST

— There is growing concern over a shortage of police officers in Raleigh. The department is down 89 officers from its authorized strength.

As a result, some officers are working long hours and all promotions are on hold. The police department has struggled with recruiting and retaining officers for some time, but veteran officers say this is the worse it has ever been.

"If you want to be a police officer, if you are mid-career and you want to change careers and you always thought about being a police officer, this is a wonderful opportunity to take that step,” Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan said.

Earlier this year, Dolan implemented what he called "lateral entry" for experienced officers moving from another law enforcement agency to the Raleigh force. Newcomers are paid based on their years of service as officers rather than how long they have worked for Raleigh. The move was designed to attract more officers, but the number of vacancies has continued to rise.

"Pay and benefits is a serious concern,” said Sgt. Rick Armstrong, with the Raleigh Police Protective Association.

Armstrong's group looks out for the interests of more than 400 officers. He says many officers leave the department for higher-paying jobs in other departments.

"They get to their top-out salary much quicker than we get to their top out salary, and that's an important issue for us and we feel like we need to get to that top-out salary quicker,” he said.

Since January, 74 officers have left the department, Dolan said, and 57 of those resigned. Of the 79 officers who left the force last year, Dolan said, 59 resigned – 17 during training, 13 to go to other law enforcement agencies and 29 for unspecified reasons.

Raleigh City Councilman Rodger Koopman says the police shortage puts the public at risk.

"It means we are not able to respond as quickly as we probably should in some cases,” he said.

Dolan says the department is working harder than ever to hire new officers, recently streamlining the hiring process and adding four officers to the recruitment office.

"It doesn't happen overnight, but it's starting to take hold. So we feel real good about it,” Dolan said.

The Durham Police Department has 31 positions open, while the Wake County Sheriff's Office is fully staffed. Dolan says he hopes to fill all current and projected Raleigh police force vacancies by the end of next year.

The starting salary for a Raleigh officer is about $34,291 a year. Durham has the lowest-paid officers in the Triangle at $33,000. Starting pay for Cary officers was the highest at $37,544.