The Meridian Police Department is seeking a $1.9 million increase in next year’s personnel budget so it can hire eight people. The department also aims to give officers raises to better compete with neighboring law enforcement agencies.
The police department’s budget for FY18, which runs through Sept. 30, is $17.8 million. Personnel costs make up $12.8 million of that.
If approved, the budget increase would fund eight new hires: a public safety public information officer, a crime prevention specialist, two data clerks and four community service officers. It would boost the department’s personnel budget by 7.5 percent.
The Meridian Police Department has 105 officers and seven lieutenants, Deputy Police Chief Tracy Basterrechea said. The department projects it will need nine more officers in FY2020 and another 18 officers by 2022, if growth continues at its current pace.
Hiring data clerks would help the department chip away at a two-year backlog of mandated state and federal reporting, Police Chief Jeff Lavey said. The additional staff would also help with emergency response times, social media, public outreach and crime prevention.
During a budget meeting with City Council, Lavey said these increases are necessary for the department to continue to serve the community efficiently.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep our head above the water,” he said.
Calls for service increased by 15 percent this year, Basterrechea said.
“As we grow and we annex property, that expands our response area,” he said, “spreading the same number of officers out over a greater area.”
City Council last year approved two more lieutenant positions, seven more officers and one more code enforcement officer. The department is still in the process of filling 10 officer positions but plans to swear in six officers in July.
Even if these 10 positions were filled, the department would still need nine more officers to keep up with the city’s growth, Basterrechea said.
The department has maintained a 4-minute emergency response time for years — 6 minutes faster than the national average, Basterrechea said. The department’s average response time is 8 minutes for non-urgent calls and 15 minutes for report calls, Lavey said. The Boise Police Department’s average response time is 4 minutes, 2 seconds for emergencies and 9 minutes, 15 seconds for non-urgent calls, BPD spokeswoman Haley Williams said.
Meridian Police salaries for newer officers and lieutenants fall behind the pay at the Boise Police Department and Ada County Sheriff’s Office.
A first-year Meridian police officer makes on average $42,000, which is more than $5,000 less than a Boise officer’s first-year pay and almost $1,500 less than a first-year Ada County deputy’s pay.
At the lieutenant rank, Meridian Police pays $96,000 to $107,000, compared with Boise’s $111,176 and Ada County’s $110,153 to $114,607.
The Meridian Police Department’s $1.41 million request to increase salaries would largely benefit lieutenants and officers who had been in the department for more than four years. These officers are at a higher risk of being poached by other departments, Basterrechea said.
While evaluating department salaries two years ago, Basterrechea said the department largely focused on increasing the salaries of less experienced officers.
Ada County employees, including deputies, are expected to get a 3 percent cost-of-living increase next fiscal year, pending approval in July, sheriff’s office spokesman Patrick Orr said.
This increase is another reason Meridian Police should raise its salaries for officers and lieutenants, Stokes said.
“We’re just falling further and further behind,” he said.
Law enforcement agencies valleywide are struggling to fill open positions, Stokes said, because of how good the economy is and how demanding being a police officer is.
“It’s really tough to hire good police officers,” he said. “Law enforcement has taken some dings. You have to be highly competitive if you’re going to fill these position, and they can’t go unfilled.”