Commentary: Public Safety Employees Deserve Fair Compensation

Commentary: Public Safety Employees Deserve Fair Compensation

My name is Diana Barrett, president of the Alexandria Chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association. I am writing not only as one of your police officers but on behalf of the approximately 170 members of my organization.

If anything I include in this letter sounds familiar, it is because I have unfortunately had to give similar statements to City Council in the four years that I have been president of our SSPBA Chapter. The unfortunate part is that each time I have given these speeches, it is for the same reason: poor pay. And poor pay leads to poor recruitment, which leads to poor retention.

Between the Alexandria Police Department and Alexandria Fire Department, my family has devoted almost 120 years of service to this city. Therefore, the only place I applied to and wanted to work was the Alexandria Police Department. One would think that because of the dedication and attachment I have to this city, I would be singing its praises and telling anyone I know that has a public service calling to apply to the City of Alexandria.

But I cannot.

Between consistently being at the bottom of the barrel for starting salaries, the constant rising of our healthcare costs, and the overall feeling that the public servants are the least of this City Council’s concern — I literally have no positive reason to give to anyone that may want to start a career with the City of Alexandria.

Alexandria City Council has historically failed to follow its own pay philosophy: to be competitive with comparable surrounding jurisdictions. They have continued to accept that every year we fall even further behind our neighboring police departments. And these are the same jurisdictions that we continually lose officers to. I could go on, but I think you get the point. None of these things should be acceptable.

Years ago, City Council created the Public Safety Work Group [PSWG]. Alexandria City has spent thousands of dollars on various consulting groups to tell them the same thing the PSWG has been saying for years: our pay is continually the lowest when compared to all other jurisdictions. There is nothing new about any of this information. This has been an ongoing issue for more than 30 years. Your police officers have continually found ways to do more with less. With the continued residential and business growth in our community along with increased tourism, we wonder how City Council expects us to carry on with the same level of service. Your police officers cannot understand why these compensation issues continue to go uncorrected, and we find it simply outrageous that we must confront City Council and fight this fight every budget cycle.

I am sure City Council is just as tired of hearing its police officers beat this same drum as we are of beating it.

Yes, we are public servants. No, we did not expect to become wealthy doing this job. Police, Fire/EMS and Sheriff’s Deputies come to work every day knowing that we may not get to go home at the end of our shift. We knew this the day we took an oath to protect this city, to put others lives before our own. But to continue paying us at such a rate that we hemorrhage employees does no one any good, especially the citizens of this city. The current approach of allowing over-hires does not resolve the issue when we cannot hire people because there is nothing attractive about our pay and benefits. Nor can we keep brand new officers because they receive an offer from another jurisdiction that doesn’t have to put someone through the academy.

Three years ago, when our compensation package was drastically lower than our neighboring jurisdictions, your police officers went to City Council and told them that we needed least an across the board 9 percent increase just to be in the middle. City Council responded with 4.5 percent. The Band-Aid helped but it was just that: a temporary attempt at helping a long lasting problem. It is time that a permanent solution is made.

Alexandria’s pay philosophy states the following: employee compensation “will be competitive at 100 percent of the average pay levels for the relevant labor market, and will be adjusted whenever necessary to maintain market competitiveness.” The only way to make this happen is to provide an across-the-board pay increase to Alexandria police officers.

City Council is scheduled to approve its 2019 budget on May 3. We are asking residents to contact City Council and tell them to abide by their very own compensation philosophy. I work with the very best public safety employees in the region and I want it to remain that way — providing a fair and competitive compensation package is the way to make that happen.

Diana Barrett

President, Southern States Police Benevolent Association