State Police pay raises have BRPD singing the blues _lowres

Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- New Baton Rouge Police graduates take the oath of Office during the 79th Baton Rouge Police Department Basic Training Academy graduation Monday July 8, 2013 at Baton Rouge Community College. The class graduated 27 trainees.

A sizable pay raise approved for State Police troopers last month has created a stir among Baton Rouge Police Department leaders concerned about their ability to recruit officers because the city pays its officers significantly less.

State Police has long been the city Police Department’s biggest competition for top-tier recruits, Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. said, and the 20 percent pay hike approved in January for the State Police troopers has dramatically widened the pay gap between the two agencies.

The starting salary for a Baton Rouge Police Department officer is $31,390 a year. Before the pay increase went into effect this week, new cadets for State Police were paid $35,609 annually. The raise now offers a starting salary of $42,730 — a difference of more than $11,000 a year and a 36 percent increase over BRPD’s starting salaries.

Dabadie said for years BRPD has been able to keep salaries relatively in line with what State Police was offering.

“But if you’re a young man or woman looking to join law enforcement and you have a choice between this agency, which makes ... more, of course you’re going to try with the agency that is paying the most money,” Dabadie said.

State Police sought the raises in the interest of protecting their ability to recruit and retain officers. The state agency ranked poorly in wages compared to what some other local, state and federal agencies were paying law enforcement officers.

“We were 11th in the state for starting salary,” said Capt. Doug Cain, State Police spokesman. “Having to compete with 10 other agencies that make more than us, and asking people to take a pay cut, was a challenge.” He said State Police dropped to 16th in pay for officers with one year of experience because local officers receive supplemental pay.

A BRPD officer with one year of experience draws a salary of $37,861 per year, which includes supplemental pay. A state trooper with a year of experience was making $38,512 but will now earn $46,692. The raises went into effect for cadets and troopers Monday.

Baton Rouge officers earn among the lowest starting pay for local and state agencies, according to a report reviewing law enforcement agencies conducted in December 2013 by LSU Shreveport’s Institute of Human Services and Public Policy.

In the capital area, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies earn a starting salary of $36,597. New recruits for Gonzales police are among the most well paid in the state at $43,637 per year. Elsewhere, a New Orleans Police Department officer will get a starting salary of $34,797, a Lafayette police officer will earn $31,390 and a Shreveport police officer will make $31,278, according to the report.

Competing with State Police already was a challenge before the raises, Dabadie said, but Baton Rouge police benefited because the department was holding more academies and providing more job opportunities for recruits .

State Police held no academies from September 2008 to January 2014, and the ranks of troopers fell from 1,150 to 950, Cain said.

Cain said the agency plans to have one class per year for the next five years, but funding is contingent on legislative approval.

This year, the BRPD is already planning two police academies to train new officers — one in April and one in October. The academies are estimated to bring in about 52 cadets in total.

BRPD has 45 police officer vacancies, and 23 more officers are scheduled to retire this year.

Individual police officers do receive regular raises in the form of step increases, but there hasn’t been a structural pay plan change — one that would improve the agency’s ability to compete with other departments — since 2006. Mayor-President Kip Holden increased pay for police officers by about 11 percent when he took office.

Now Baton Rouge police, as well as other Baton Rouge city employees, are in the midst of contract negotiations aimed at improving the pay scale.

“I hope that it weighs into our negotiations quite a bit,” BRPD Union President Chris Stewart said of the State Police raises. “Starting salary is a driving force in any field, and ours is no different. If you want to get the best and the brightest from prior military, college graduates or with prior law enforcement experience, you understand that top-tier applicants look for the money first.”

Stewart said State Police and BRPD tend to go for the same types of recruits. The state agency has a significant Baton Rouge presence. Its Troop A, which covers nine parishes, is headquartered in the capital city. State Police also holds their academies in Baton Rouge.

“They are our direct competition,” Stewart said. “Their standards are high, as are ours.”

The Mayor’s Office has committed to presenting new employee pay plans by the end of March. Stewart said he didn’t want to disclose what was happening in negotiations but he felt confident the Mayor’s Office would deliver a plan that would allow them to compete with State Police.

“I would be disappointed with anything different,” he said.

However, the mayor’s staff has said it will be difficult to deliver any substantial across-the-board pay increases unless employees are willing to budge on certain benefits tied to leave and retirement.

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