Citing hiring challenges, City of Phoenix awards big pay raises to police department
Phoenix police officers will soon see their salaries skyrocket.
Until this week, a brand new Phoenix recruit would start at around $50,000. Now, that starting salary has been increased to $68,661. High-level Commanders who are already earning $105,000 per year will see that jump to $167,000.
The changes are part of a major salary restructuring plan for the Phoenix police, which was approved by the mayor and city council in an 8-1 vote Wednesday. In total, the plan will cost the city $19.8 million next year. The projected police budget for the next fiscal year will be nearly $850 million, an increase of $63 million from this fiscal year.
Not exactly the funding requested by many critics of the ministry.
Unsurprisingly, the increases sparked protests and hundreds of public comments, both supporting and opposing the decision. On Tuesday, ahead of the ruling, activists gathered outside Phoenix City Hall, protesting the plan and calling it a misuse of city funds. Public comments on the proposal lasted over an hour and often became emotional.
The city council, however, was unsympathetic. Council member Carlos Garcia was the sole opponent of the proposal. City council supporters have argued that Phoenix police salaries are lower than those in other cities, which is a pressing issue.
“Safety in the City of Phoenix is a priority. It’s a priority for my constituents,” Councilwoman Ann O’Brien said at the meeting. O’Brien, along with city staff, spearheaded the plan. Phoenix agent salaries, she said, were below average compared to other local departments, and raising them was the best way to address staffing shortages.
Others said that regardless of their views on police funding, they believed the city had to raise stagnating salaries. “The cost of living is rising rapidly in the city of Phoenix,” said council member Yassamin Ansari. Current entry-level agent salaries, she said, were “simply unsustainable.”
The Phoenix Police Department has experienced attrition over the past two years as it has struggled to recruit enough new cops to replace departing ones. Currently, there are around 2,700 sworn officers in the force, up from around 3,000 in 2019.
These issues required an “immediate” response, city staff said.
The city is reconsidering salaries for city employees across all departments, in a study that will wrap up in early 2023. Phoenix police, however, got priority.
“I think it’s unfair to other workers in the city that one department always takes priority,” Garcia said, calling it “shortsighted.”
Pressed by Garcia on why the city decided to offer pay raises to police before completing the study, Deputy City Manager Lori Bays said city staff decided in November to speed up the process, due to the “serious shortage of police officers that we are experiencing.”
The city reviewed officer salaries in surrounding cities and towns, with the goal of making Phoenix cops the highest paid in the Valley. Now they will be the highest paid police force in the state of Arizona at 10%, according to city figures.
“For decades, the Phoenix City Police Department has been the gold standard for a career in law enforcement. Academy courses would fill every seat in the classroom,” O’Brien wrote in his statement touting the plan.
In recent years, that hasn’t been the case, O’Brien said, in part because of the department’s cost-cutting after the 2008 recession. She had led the city’s plan to give back to the department, in its spirit, its former glory.
The plan takes effect Aug. 8 and will increase the salaries of each sworn member by at least $16,000 – and in most cases by much more.
Police officers earning $60,000 will now see their salaries increase to $87,630. Lieutenants earning $101,000 will now earn $152,381. Police sergeants currently have a salary range of $76,398 to $113,630; it will now be $105,976 to $138,528.
And the Phoenix police chief can now earn a maximum salary of $289,328, up from around $243,000.
The raises put Phoenix police above even some other big, expensive cities, including New York, which still starts officers at $42,000 and has a police chief earning just over $200,000. The new $68,000 benchmark is also higher than entry-level cop starting salaries in Chicago ($54,700), Dallas ($61,000) and Houston ($58,700) — though lower than the Los Angeles Police Department. , which starts agents at $80,000.
Of course, Phoenix isn’t as affordable as it used to be. Rents are skyrocketing, and the city has been hit harder than many places by inflation.
These increases are not as high as they seem. The city currently has a bonus program for officers based on performance and training that allows for additional compensation between $1,900 and $7,600 per year. Now, those bonuses will be eliminated and factored into new salaries – although thanks to overtime pay, night shifts and remaining bonuses, many officers are likely to be able to earn more than their base salary.
Nor are they set in stone. This winter, the city’s unions, including the police union, will begin negotiating new contracts. As a general rule, collective bargaining often results in wage increases.
Activists noted the irony of such pay increases as the department is under investigation by the US Department of Justice over civil rights issues, and as the city faces other crises, such as the growing number of people living on the streets.
“The police are not the answer to the housing crisis. The police are not the answer to the overdose crisis,” said Keisha Acton, an activist with the Phoenix Metro branch of Black Lives Matter, s speaking outside City Hall on Tuesday.
Acton was standing in the same spot, she reminded the crowd, where two years earlier she had protested police brutality and been targeted by Phoenix officers. Acton was one of more than a dozen protesters charged with criminal gang activity during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. The case was eventually dropped.
The fallout from this scandal, however, is ongoing. The lawsuits filed by Acton and others remain unresolved. Just last week, the Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office decided to fire the lead prosecutor handling the case. The Justice Department said it is reviewing the department’s handling of First Amendment activities as part of its investigation.
In addition, protesters pointed out, there are other areas that could benefit from investment.
“People are dying because they don’t have enough food. They don’t have access to fresh air. They don’t have access to water. They don’t have access to shelter. C That’s where we need to invest. In our people, in our communities,” said Anna Hernandez, an activist whose brother was shot and killed by Phoenix officers in 2019.
Hernandez and others pointed out that the proposal was made “sneakily, under the table.” The wage increases were announced just a week before they were presented to city council.
Yet the proposal also has many supporters – as evidenced by public comments made online and in person.
Phoenix resident Julie Read said the pay raises were an important solution for a “shrinking police force that cannot handle its current call load. Having enough officers is vital.”
“I believe we need the best, the brightest and the best trained police forces to protect and serve the citizens of Phoenix,” said fellow commentator Debra McGrew. “It starts with getting paid well.”
The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the union for rank-and-file officers in Phoenix, posted a statement on Facebook calling on people to voice their support for pay increases, saying it would be a solution to the department’s current hiring issues.
Yet even with the pay increases, the future of the Phoenix Police Department looks murky. The city, under the watch of the Justice Department, is looking for a new police chief to replace current Chief Jeri Williams, who plans to retire this summer. He is embroiled in numerous legal battles over the use of force and its treatment of protesters. The impact of that extra $20 million, so far, remains to be seen.