In the midst of what law enforcement might consider a dry season when it comes to hiring, the Bellmead Police Department will now be able to offer qualifying prospective officers a $5,000 bonus when joining the department, a move officials hope will bring experienced officers to their city and keep them there.
“This is a great place to work so we just have to become competitive in salary,” Bellmead City Manager Yost Zakhary said. “I think that once we are, officers are really going to like it here because here they can make a difference.”
The city council approved the $5,000 hiring incentive with a unanimous vote Tuesday. Zakhary, who also is interim police chief for Bellmead, said the department’s turnover rate stands at 51%, up from 45% last year, but the new incentive brings hope for turning that around. The department also hopes to fill seven open positions to reach its full authorized strength of 24.
Council member James Cleveland said the incentive had been an ongoing discussion for the board.
“We came up with that to grab the attention of experienced officers that are looking in hopes once they get here, they will stick around versus what we have been having, which is the officers get experienced and they end up leaving,” Cleveland said.
To qualify for the $5,000 incentive, which would be paid out over the course of one year, officers must have a current and valid certification with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, have a minimum of one year of on-the-job experience, successfully complete the hiring process, and sign a two-year hiring incentive agreement with the city.
Assistant Chief Brenda Kinsey said the department would benefit from bringing in officers with experience.
“When we can get in certified officers who have experience we get a faster return on our investment so to speak and so does the community because we can put them through an accelerated built-in training program, which is usually around six to eight weeks, depending on their training and experience,” Kinsey said.
This means an experienced officer will be able to start serving the community quicker than an untrained hire.
Kinsey said the department will still hire untrained applicants if they qualify. According to the agenda submitted to the council Tuesday, hiring an untrained applicant and sending them to the police academy costs the city $39,450 per applicant.
The department believes both the incentive for experienced officers and the hiring of untrained applicants are needed because officer retirement rates are high across the county.
Zakhary said the annual pay range for a certified police officer in Bellmead is between $45,348 and $50,232, compared to the Hewitt Police Department’s average annual pay of $55,390 and the Waco Police Department’s average annual pay of $55,708.
The incentive is a good start in the goal of closing the gap in pay between Bellmead and other local departments, Zakhary said.
The department also hopes to draw in prospective hires through its recruitment video, showing current officers at work and speaking on their experience.
Patrol Sgt. Jerry Vaughn said any new officer with the department will have the chance to gain experience, be proactive, and “put in the work” as officers stay busy protecting and serving the community.
“If you want to actually do police work and not sit around and run traffic all day, then this would be the place,” said Officer Jacob Sluder, who also appeared in the department’s recruitment video.
The Bellmead City Council had made previous efforts to address the pay of officers, including voting 5-1 in September to approve a 5% increase to the city’s property tax rate, which was aimed to fund raises for officers and firefighters.
“This whole community has been very supportive of public safety and that reflects,” Zakhary said. “We have been behind on pay scales but they are making some dramatic steps to get up to par with other cities and we are very appreciative of that.”
Cleveland said since an incentive was approved for police officers, the board will continue to try to find ways of increasing pay for firefighters as well.
“I am very pleased that the city council continues to support first responders and I hope that it continues as we move into the 2022 budget,” Zakhary said.