The town of Jackson has a plan to attract and retain more police officers after losing several experienced cops in just a few months.
The three-part plan, which involves signing bonuses, temporary housing allowances and an advancement program, was presented and approved at Monday night’s Jackson Town Council meeting.
Chief of Police Todd Smith, Lt. Roger Schultz and Assistant Town Manager Roxanne DeVries Robinson put together the plan with the oversight of Town Administrator Larry Pardee.
“We started looking at the reasons employees have left,” Smith said. “The common theme was the step system to take some uncertainty out of things. The plan was built around that premise.”
In the plan, the Jackson Police Department will implement an advancement program to allow officers promotions and raises that are otherwise available only if someone else vacates a position.
“It creates an opportunity for a person to be able to see themselves advancing,” Smith said. “There is this value to feeling like the work you do is recognized.”
Police officers will now be able to advance to officer two, three and four if they meet training requirements.
Each promotion would come with a raise, Smith said.
The department will also implement a new rank of senior corporal that corporals will be able to apply for after four years of service as a low-level leader within the force.
“Other law enforcement organizations in the community have step plans,” the memorandum states, “but this plan would allow employees to move up on merit and values based on behaviors and not simply an annual step plan.”
More bonuses, housing
The department will also increase signing bonuses from a $3,000 bonus spread over three years to $15,000 paid out over a five-year period.
Smith said the department started giving bonuses in January 2018 during a “very challenging period of recruitment” and it’s been a positive change.
Increasing the bonuses each year will incentivize officers to stick around longer.
“These bonuses could assist employees with a down payment for housing through the housing programs,” the memorandum states. “These bonuses are treated as income and are taxed accordingly.”
The new plan also includes expanding temporary housing allowances from one year to two years.
If new officers rent from the town they are offered half off rent, or if they find housing in Teton County on their own they’re given $500 a month to go toward rent.
That assistance will be offered for 24 months now instead of 12, Smith said.
The housing allowances help when it comes to recruiting new officers, Smith said, and allows them to “get their foot in the door” before finding more permanent housing.
“Most of these places are not dream living conditions,” Smith said. “But it allows them to have a lower rent than what’s on the open market.”
It’s the best way to ensure that some emergency personnel live in Jackson, Smith said, rather than in Star Valley and Teton Valley, Idaho.
“When we have an emergency and need to call people out it’s nice to know they’re there,” Smith said.
The department is so short staffed that it recently contracted with Lincoln County to help cover Jackson Hole Airport.
Smith said the new plan shows a willingness to get creative to keep the community safe.
He admits it’s not going to fix all the staffing issues but said it’s a step in the right direction.
“We need to be competitive, fair, and we need to recognize when something isn’t working and be open minded to try something new,” Smith said. “We are making strides, but we have to stay focused on what we are trying to achieve.”