Incoming Juneau Police Department officers will now be offered a hiring bonus of up to $30,000 in exchange for a four-year commitment to the department, the City and Borough of Juneau announced.
This new offer comes as the department faces ongoing staffing and recruitment challenges. The city will now offer a hiring bonus of $25,000 for entry-level police officer candidates and $30,000 for officers with at least one year of experience.
The department is currently down 11 officers, and according to Deputy City Manager Robert Barr, filling those vacancies is one of the city’s top priorities.
Barr said the initiation of the significant hiring bonus is due to a combination of things, including the city’s struggles to compete with other law enforcement agencies in Alaska like Alaska State Troopers and the Anchorage Police Department, which until now, offered higher sign-on bonuses than Juneau.
He said that issue and the nationwide law enforcement workforce shortage are the two major factors that pushed the city to begin offering the large bonuses.
“We have been experiencing recruitment and retention issues for some time now, particularly with sworn police officer positions — this has been more significantly a challenge now more than it has been in the past,” he said.
He said the funds to offer these bonuses come from the lapsing personnel funds accrued due to current vacancies.
The current wage of an entry-level officer is around $35-36 dollars an hour, while an officer of around five years of experience makes around $40, Barr said.
Hiring bonuses will be paid out in two installments and come with a four-year commitment to employment at JPD. If an officer agrees to the four-year commitment but then decides to leave before then, Barr said the city will recoup funds that equate to the amount of time in the commitment that was left unfinished. The bonus only applies to incoming officers.
According to Sgt. Sterling Salisbury, president of the Juneau Police Department Employees Association Board, the hiring bonuses are a good step, but not nearly enough to adequately address the issues the department continues to face.
“No, I don’t think this is enough,” he told the Empire. “We support it, and see that it’s in the right direction, but this is just a start and I think we need to figure out the retention part of it.”
He said while filling those vacant positions is a major need for the department, he argued the current vacancies will continue to grow if the city does not encourage current department employees to stay.
Salisbury said more often than not other law enforcement agencies in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest offer both high retention bonuses and high wages. He said the city needs to raise its pay to be more in line with Alaska State Troopers and the Anchorage Police Department and to offer incentives to current officers that grow the longer an officer stays.
He said the department is already expecting to lose an additional four officers come summer, which he said is only going to increase the burden already placed on current officers.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.