As we have heard for many years now, Fairfax County is once again in a budget crunch. Since the economic crisis of 2007 and 2008, like many people, Fairfax County employees have seen their buying power shrink substantially. Pay grades have been decimated by the county’s inability to consistently pay market rate adjustments, and the scales are tipping with 26 percent of general county employees’ salaries falling behind inflation. All of this could have been prevented if not for the insatiable appetite to grow county government beyond its revenue streams.
The County Executive proposed budget states in part; “$2.71 million for pay scale leveling for uniformed police and sheriff pay scales.” The unpleasant part of this statement is that many citizens and even board members do not know that the words “Pay Scale Leveling” do not describe what is actually about to occur. The Public Financial Management, Inc. (PFM) report is not published on the Police Chief’s website or any site readily available to the public. The lack of transparency is a stark contrast to the reality that every other study completed in recent years is listed at the Chief’s site, to include, PERF, CALEA, and the Ad-Hoc Commission.
This so called ‘leveling’ is necessary, because for many years Fairfax County has avoided the growing problem of recruiting police officers. As the issue has become more acute in recent months, Chief Roessler stated at the December 2016 public safety meeting, “We’re just keeping our heads above water right now.” Fairfax County has realized that it can no longer ignore the low salaries of its police force if they expect to hire individuals who have clean backgrounds, are able to perform under the pressures of the work environment, accept the danger, and maintain their integrity, while displaying professionalism in ever evolving situations.
Under the proposed budget, each police pay grade will be altered to provide even progression through pay steps. This change provides a small financial increase of less than $700 for each rank, which is necessary. However, five new grades are being proposed that happen to fall within the range of command and administrative staff officers. These ranks will see raises as much as $11,862.40. What does this do for recruiting? Absolutely nothing. Adding to the dismay of many, FCPD Majors and Captains have in recent years, already received large raises outside established Fairfax County human resources practices, all while the Fairfax County Police Department is unable to recruit a full academy class of new police officers. Every rank within the FCPD should be brought within Fairfax County’s philosophy of market rate, just like any other county agency. The FCPD cannot boast about strong leadership while supporting a plan that favors 5 percent of the agency’s employees and tells the other 95 percent, we’ll get to you later. This rhetoric has become urban legend with FCPD officers, and this new strategy ignores the findings of the Ad Hoc sub-committee on recruitment, vetting, and diversity which found that there is currently no financial incentive to become a police Sergeant.
Policing has become extremely dangerous, highly litigated, and requires technical skills and abilities. Because of these environmental issues, policing is quickly becoming a profession that demands higher pay. Without higher pay, many jurisdictions will continue to suffer from recruiting issues and worse yet, civil litigation due to poorly trained and/or underperforming officers. The inability to compete monetarily, has led to an ever increasing percentage of officers who live outside Fairfax County. Currently, just 25 percent of county police employees live in Fairfax County, which weakens the ability to have officers with a vested interest in their community.
The FCPD, ‘Pay Scale Leveling’ is damaging cohesiveness within the ranks due to the history of the agency’s selective pay raises. If you find this information as troubling as we do, we encourage you to contact the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and also validate this information by asking for a copy of the PFM study. These are serious public safety issues. The citizens of Fairfax County rightfully expect continued service by well trained, professional and ethical officers who have, and will always fulfill the duties they have sworn to uphold. Adoption of the proposed pay plan would represent selective treatment and would negatively impact morale among the rank and file who would feel resentment, frustration and a lack of support from Fairfax County administrators.
President, Virginia Police Benevolent Association
Fairfax County Chapter