PORT ALLEN — City leaders say the steady exodus of officers from the city’s Police Department appears to be slowing, but Police Chief Esdron Brown says he needs more resources to keep other officers from leaving for better jobs.
Records show 12 officers have left since Brown took over as police chief in January 2013, and Councilman Garry Hubble said city leaders have never been given a clear explanation of why the turnover was so high in such a short period of time.
“I think it has leveled off,” Hubble said. “I was very alarmed with the turnover rate. But the Police Department is a separate department with an elected official. They pretty much run their own show.”
Brown said he hopes to have the department fully staffed soon with 16 officers and said the high turnover during his first two years in office wasn’t the result of anything he did.
He attributed it to past political turmoil during the administration of former Mayor Deedy Slaughter, his department’s inability to compete with higher-paying agencies and antiquated equipment and resources he’s working to upgrade.
“I just think it was a maneuver to pick at the Police Department,” Brown said Wednesday about the council’s focus on him. “What they failed to realize is that when I got there, the department was short five people. There was nothing going on internally with me or the people working under me.”
According to city records, Brown has hired 16 police officers since entering office. Eleven officers have quit since he became chief, and one was fired.
Turnover was less in the two years prior to Brown becoming chief, with eight officers leaving the force between 2011 and 2012.
Of the 12 who left the Police Department within the past two years, four quit within 10 months or less of working there and one was fired after only three months.
At least two officers left recently for jobs with the Brusly Police Department, where they earn slightly higher annual salary, according to town records. Most entry-level police officers earn about $34,000 annually with the Port Allen Police Department.
The town of Brusly also pays 100 percent of the police officers’ health benefits — something a lot of other agencies in the area do as well. Brown said that hurts his ability to retain officers for an extended period of time.
“The city has the money to pay it,” Brown said. “I think it’s something the council has to get together and start doing. We’re having to fight to get new equipment and pay raises while other departments are paying for their officers’ insurance and new equipment. Of course you’re going to have people leave when they see stuff like this.”
In August, the City Council tried addressing the department’s hemorrhaging of officers by adopting an ordinance mandating police personnel reimburse the city for any training and equipment costs they incur as new hires if they leave the Police Department within a two-year period.
Last year, the council also allocated $180,000 to purchase six new vehicles after setting aside funds the previous year to purchase six more after Brown’s expressed a passionate need to replace the department’s fleet of antiquated vehicles.
Hubble is hoping the city’s newly created Human Resources Department will be able to bring some clarity should the department be hit with another exodus.
“I was told no one gave reasons why they left, but there should be a reason stated on file just to protect us,” Hubble said. “There may be problems internally, but I don’t know what they are because no one is going to tell me.”
Hubble added, “Hopefully (the turnover rate) won’t go back up. If it does, I do intend to examine it and see what it is.”
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.