Police and Public Safety: responding to officer attrition

At Monday’s City Council Meeting, I submitted the following for public comment:

Tonight you will hear from Chief Towers on the Police Department’s survey on compensation for officers. As a member of the city’s Police and Public Safety Citizens Advisory Committee and as a Hyattsville resident, I urge you to grant the chief’s request to allocate additional American Rescue Act Funds to HCPD bonuses and salaries in order to retain and recruit officers to the city’s police department. The current staffing levels are putting an unfair strain on our officer’s well-being and undermines their ability to consistently perform at the high level we demand of our city’s officers. Compensation, as well as recruitment and retention efforts should be a priority of this council in order to avoid a public safety crisis. Our officers are doing great work out and about in Hyattsville, and they are currently very much needed in our schools, as demonstrated by their swift action and good work this past week. At this point, I can think of little else that would outweigh the focus we should be putting on this project and ensuring the safety of Hyattsville’s residents and visitors, and continuing to grow our police department into one that demonstrates the values and vision that Hyattsville represents. 

The council needs to take decisive action to start working toward retention and recruitment strategies before our police department’s staffing levels fall dangerously low. As it stands, our current officers are working mandatory overtime, giving up precious hours they could spend resting, recharging, and reconnecting with their friends and families.

Our officers do a marvelous job interacting positively with our community. They take the time to reach out to get to know residents, not just respond to emergencies. They use the de-escalation training they have received to diffuse tense situations in order that they do not devolve into violence. That takes time and we want our officers to feel that they can take the time to get residents the help they need, rather than running from call to call.

When our officers have to cover more shifts, they can be working well over 12 hours a day or through what would otherwise be their time off. We know that when people are tired, they make mistakes. We cannot afford as a city to take that risk. We want our officers at their best because they respond to the public and to very intense encounters that can become life or death.

The city’s compensation study showed that we are behind 7-14% in officer salaries, compared to other jurisdictions. The police department’s survey showed that the number one reason for job dissatisfaction is the amount of pay and amount of work. Our officers are well-trained and have no problems getting jobs in nearby jurisdictions where they will be paid more to do less work. I think the council should work diligently to look at the numbers from that study and the proposed use of the American Rescue Act Funds to quickly move to compensate our current officers as a recruitment strategy, as well as offer signing bonuses to recruit trained, talented officers.

We expect a lot from our officers and our department has become a model of 21st Century Policing for the region. Nearby municipality rely on our excellent response and training offerings. Our residents and the entire region would suffer if we cannot maintain and grow upon that track-record of excellence.

At this juncture, police and public safety should be the number one priority for staff and council. We need to bring to bear our financial and expert resources to ensure that Hyattsville remains a safe place to live, work, and visit, or the state of other issues such as food insecurity, development, social justice, and the economy will deteriorate.

As the candidate with the most experience in policy on policing and public safety, I assert that I am the best choice for ward 2 and to navigate what will prove to be the most pressing council priority this coming year and probably for the rest of this term.

Vote Emily October 4th.

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