LUMBERTON — The chief of police for Lumberton, armed with an ability to better pay officers, believes he can have the department back to about full staff in a short time.
“Right off the bat I can fill up those 12 to 14 spots we have open, when I find the right candidates,” Chief Mike McNeill said.
Fully staffed the department numbers about 100 officers. But in recent months those numbers have been reduced because of officers transferring to other departments in search of better pay. However, the City Council on Monday approved an incentives program that McNeill believes will help with retention.
The chief said Wednesday that interviews have been conducted with eight to 10 candidates and if background checks come back clean, the new officers could be on the beat soon.
The council unanimously approved a career ladder program that offers pay increases to officers who complete intermediate and advanced law enforcement certification. Pay increases for certified officers will go into immediate effect for about 40 officers, McNeill said Monday.
“The pay here is not really bad to start off with, but anything we can give them as an incentive helps. That is what council is doing here and what I’m recommending to them. I think our recruiting effort is going to be really good and our retention rate is going to be really good,” McNeill said after the vote.
The career ladder sets out pay rises for officers as they increase their certification level. Officers who complete intermediate certification get a 2.5 percent pay rise and officers who make it through advanced certification get an additional 5 percent.
“It’s a long time coming,” City Councilman Burnis Wilkins said.
Wilkins, who spent a career in law enforcement and now coordinates law enforcement training at Robeson Community College, says a 2012 decision by Lumberton to do away with health insurance for officers between their work days and Medicare eligibility hurt recruitment efforts.
“That year, when they stopped that it became harder to hire officers. Retention rates fell,” he said.
Wilkins joined City Council in 2013.
The pay increase for qualified officers translates to about $1,000 and $2,200 a year based on an average base salary for a new officer. Base pay varies significantly depending on work experience, law enforcement training and academic qualification.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or @MikeGellatly