WASHINGTON COUNTY — In an effort to save the City of Hagerstown money when hiring new officers, the Hagerstown Police Department will use a financial incentive to entice applicants who have completed a police academy.
The Hagerstown City Council in December approved letting the police department use two hiring incentives to attract applicants: one for $5,000 paid to the person hired and one for $500 paid to an existing officer who refers an applicant to the city who is then hired.
The council supported the measure by a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Forrest W. Easton dissenting, City Clerk Donna Spickler said.
Currently, HPD has nine vacancies and is trying to fill two of them, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said.
The two open positions are for full-time police officers at a starting salary of about $37,793, he said. Those with experience would get a bump in pay for up to five years of experience, he said.
Smith said the city is targeting candidates who are certified in Maryland, as well as those who are certified in another state.
Hiring certified officers — candidates who have passed a police academy — saves the city the expense of sending a recruit to an academy, he said.
It takes months to train and certify a new officer, Smith said. During that time, the city would be paying salary and benefits to the employee who would not yet be on the street, Smith said.
Targeting certified candidates “saves the city seven months of salary and benefits while they go through academy and we don’t have to carry that vacancy,” he said.
Councilman William Breichner, who supported the incentive, said he realizes it is difficult for the city to attract certified officers.
“I think it’s critical to this community that we keep a reasonable level of staffing at our police department, and if this helps recruit qualified people, it is worthwhile,” he said.
It’s important that the city be able to attract qualified officers, he said.
Easton said that while he voted against the measure, he was not opposed to the incentive and believes it will fulfill its intended goal.
What he opposed was the precedent the vote would set, and the fact it does not fix the assumed underlying problem of the city’s starting salary being lower than other departments, he said.
“I don’t think we dove into the whole issue, and I think there is now the possibility for other (city departments) to make the same argument for offering an incentive,” he said. “I don’t think it (the incentive) fixes the problem — if there is a problem — of starting salaries. To me, it just seems absolutely ridiculous to say we cannot raise the starting salary for candidates based on their education and experience.”
Hagerstown’s sworn officers are unionized and contracts are negotiated.
While Smith said he has known of hiring incentives being used before, it is not business as usual for HPD.
Breichner said other communities in the region offer higher salaries and more incentives than Hagerstown.
As for the amount the city agreed to pay a new hire, “That was a suggested number,” Breichner said. “It may not be the number that we need, to tell you the truth, but it’s a start.”
Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said the sheriff’s office offers an incentive to certified candidates in the form of a higher starting salary.
Candidates with a Maryland certification are brought in two steps higher than the base pay, a salary of about $40,000, he said.
Candidates certified in other states are brought in one step above base pay, he said.
The question of whether the Chambersburg (Pa.) Police Department offers hiring incentives “kind of came out of left field,” said Chambersburg Mayor Pete Lagiovane, who as mayor oversees the police department.
“In a time when departments are having to cut back, it does not seem realistic right now,” he said.
While Chambersburg does not offer a hiring incentive for police, the Winchester (Va.) Police Department does.
Winchester offers an incentive for Virginia certified officers, a department representative said.
Winchester’s recruitment incentive program pays a one-time monetary bonus based on years of experience, certification points, education and foreign language proficiency, according to its website at www.winchesterpolice.org/recruitment/incentives.html.
Information was unavailable from the Frederick (Md.) Police Department, Frederick County (Md.) Sheriff’s Office and Martinsburg (W.Va.) Police Department.