Attracting and keeping police officers in Lake Havasu City became a hot topic of conversation at the end of the City Council budget work session.
Mike Fuller, a detective with the police department and the president of the Lake Havasu City Police Officer’s Association, spoke of the group’s concerns over officer salaries, keeping good officers on the force and providing safety to its citizens.
“Our officers are making 15 to 18 percent less than officers in similar-sized departments and we have 10 vacancies on the department, so that’s very concerning for the future,” Fuller said.
Fuller, who has been a law officer since 2000 and on the Havasu force since 2003, said the department grew to 96 officers between 2003 and 2008. But due to the recession, the City made significant cuts in its budget that affected various city departments, including police. Before Prop 409 was passed by city residents in 2018, that also inhibited pay increases.
“We have 77 officers now and the budget shows three being added,” Fuller said. “But, can we police the city properly? Yes, we have to and we will, but if we’re not careful we’ll be more reactive than proactive.”
Fuller gave an example of how officers are limited in moving up a “step” in the pay scale.
“In November 2005, an officer was hired, then six months later another joined the force. But because of the way the system is set up that second officer is doing the same amount of work for $5,000 to $7,000 less. That really adds up over the years and it affects their retirement,” Fuller said.
Council member Gordon Groat said “our officers deserve a good retirement.”
City Manager Jess Knudson said the positional analysis the city wants to do will help determine the responsibilities of each full-time city employee and what they should be paid.
“We’re not being conservative on this at all,” Knudson said. “We want to take a close look at what we’re doing and what people should be paid. It could be another $50,000 in the budget or $5 million.
“I’ll expect it’ll be a lot closer to the second figure, but we need to know,” Knudson said. “We want to be able to keep our best and brightest officers.”
The City is also looking at replacing five patrol vehicles in Fiscal Year 2019-20 at a cost of about $310,000.
“We have several vehicles that are from 2007-08 and have more than 100,000 miles on them, so it’s something that needs addressed,” Police Chief Dan Doyle said.
According to preliminary budget figures, it will cost about $16.2 million to operate the Police Department in Fiscal Year 2019-20. That is an increase of about $545,965 from Fiscal Year 2018-19.
The Department did receive several grants that will result in new equipment and an officer that will serve on the Mohave Area General Narcotics Enforcement Team Task Force.
Some of the other grants are for DUI and drug enforcement, the Western Arizona Law Enforcement Training Academy, a bomb suit and SWAT team equipment, and bullet proof vests.
The budget is scheduled to receive preliminary OK at the June 11 City Council meeting and final approval at the June 25 meeting.