BENTONVILLE -- Entry-level Bentonville police officers will see a pay increase starting in July as the city tries to remain competitive with other local departments.
The City Council in May gave the OK to increase entry officer pay 22%, from $19.67 an hour ($40,914 a year) to $24 an hour ($49,920 a year).
In 2022, area police departments began an extensive review of their pay plans with the Springdale Police Department being the first to provide a substantial increase. The Springdale City Council voted on a resolution to add $2.29 million to its 2023 budget with a starting salary of $53,000. Other departments followed with Fort Smith and Fayetteville approving similar increases, according to a memo from Bentonville Police Chief Ray Shastid to Mayor Stephanie Orman and the council.
The city Human Resources and Accounting Department assisted the Police Department with the review of salaries, according to the memo.
Even though hiring in general has remained challenging post-pandemic, the city has been able to hire officers -- it just may take a little more time to fill positions, City Human Resources Manager Machele Bowen said.
"This change will help ensure we remain competitive in our wage structure to attract new personnel," Bowen said.
The city has six open police officer positions with 93 officers on staff, Bowen said.
The openings could be filled by either a police officer 1 (entry level) or a police officer 2 for officers who are certified and have previous experience, said Debbie Griffin, city director of administration.
All uniformed staff and telecommunication positions were reviewed and adjusted according to salary survey data results as approved by the council.
The cost is $1.8 million a year, Bowen said. The pay adjustment takes effect July 3.
All civilian positions will be evaluated in 2024, Bowen said.
JER HR Group, formerly known as The Johanson Group, did a pay plan study that included the police departments in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Springdale and Rogers along with Jonesboro and Lawrence, Kan.
The firm collected the data in February, according to Shastid's memo.
Bentonville minimum salaries from officer to police chief lagged behind the others in most instances. Bentonville was the smallest city among the group. The consultants used large cities in the same recruitment area to benchmark against, Bowen said.
Bentonville paid new incoming police officers a minimum of $40,914. The next closest minimum salary was Jonesboro at $44,558.
Councilwoman Beckie Seba said it is much more expensive to train than to retain.
"We did not bump up to the highest amongst comparable cities, but we did need to raise it to be competitive," Seba said. "Agencies around the area are short-staffed as it is. Bentonville has a great culture, but has to make sense financially for our officers as well."
Councilman Octavio Sanchez said he supports the salary increase, which the council approved on May 23.
"This increase levels the field, as our salaries were way below many others," he said. "The starting salary for a new officer will be about the same as in comparable cities, which may make it easier for new officers to decide to work in Bentonville. The salary increase will also persuade existing personnel to remain at their jobs and excel at them. We all win with a highly motivated and professional police department."
Sgt. Matt Ray, public information officer for Springdale police, said its city patrol officers start at $53,087 with holiday pay.
The department has around 11 openings, but several applicants are in the background-check stage of the hiring process. The department has 153 officers, he said.
"Retention has not been a big issue," Ray said. "We have lost a few due to a federal agency and a couple from retirement recently.
"We offer several specialties within the department allowing officers to grow within the department and the opportunity to do different things, which helps officers move around during their career."
Public safety, specifically law enforcement, continues to face numerous challenges nationally and at a local level in recruiting and retention, Shastid said.
The Washington Post reported May 27 that police departments across the country are struggling to fill their ranks.
The San Francisco Police Department is down more than 600 officers, almost 30% of its allotment. Phoenix needs about 500 more officers to be fully staffed, according to the Post story.
The adjustment to the pay plan will ensure the city is recruiting and retaining the most professional and qualified police officers for the city, Shastid said.
"We review staffing needs annually for the Police Department, as well as every city department, to maintain adequate levels for servicing our citizen population. Most departments are looking out a minimum of three years to plan for future growth," Bowen said.