ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - It's something police departments around the country are experiencing: shortages in officers.
Did you know the Alexandria Police Department is currently down 25 out of a max of 152 uniformed officers?
Now, that shortage is getting the attention of residents in a local neighborhood watch group.
Resident David Melancon was at the Wilshire Park neighborhood watch meeting on Tuesday night where he openly asked Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall about APD compensation and how the department is retaining officers.
"What actionable items are you and your administration doing that you can concretely point to and say we are doing this and this so that we can not only regain those officers, but retain those officers?" Melancon asked.
This is what the Mayor had to say in return:
"We don't have a concrete step by step of what we're doing, a plan as it lays out what we're going to do, how much money it's going to cost, what do we have to go through to try to get new salaries laid out, the impact the union contract one way or another, that I don't have to give to you at this time."
That exchange between resident David Melancon and Mayor Jeff Hall is touching on a larger issue at the police department.
According to the union that represents APD, a steady decline in officers has been an ongoing problem.
"We're at a 14.5 percent decrease in employees, we have lost 24 employees that we're working short, that's roughly two patrol shifts," said Kenny Rachal, president of the Alexandria Police Officer's Local 833 Union.
Two more officers are also on their way out.
"That's 26 and we haven't even graduated the five out of the academy yet," said Rachal.
Lt. Rachal says it all comes down to money.
"We've had some that have left that started making money and when they left they were making less money than when they were hired," said Rachal.
He's worried a steady purge could end up impacting the community. So, the union said it went to the hall administration to see what could be done.
The police department is currently under a five-year contract with the city that expires in April of 2021. It was signed under Mayor Jacques Roy.
At APD, a starting salary for a police officer is 34-thousand dollars. An officer is not eligible for raises until they reach the rank of Corporal, which will then net them a 5 percent raise.
Although, the union feels like that's not enough, and wants to come to the table now to renegotiate, which they can do if the city agrees to as well. Back in May, Mayor Hall gave a 2 percent raise to all city employees.
"Maybe a few weeks after that, a couple of officers that didn't receive it came to us and said 'hey, we didn't get the raise'," said Rachal.
Rachal said he went to public safety commissioner, Daryl Terry about why nearly 50 of the officers weren't getting a raise.
"First he told me that they would be getting the raise but then he came back and said no they won't be getting the raise, that y'all are under contract," said Rachal.
So the administration offered an addendum, a one-time 2-percent pay raise. But there were concerns with the union and a line which hinted that it could invalidate the current contract so that they would be permanently locked out of negotiations all together until 2021.
Although city attorney David Williams says that's not the case.
"I'm pretty sure we're close to arriving at something. But it was offered, the mayor is correct. That's incorrect what you just said," said Williams.
There still appears to be an impasse on negotiations.
"There's a law called civil service. a state law, what you can pay, what you can't pay. There's a union contract as to what you can pay an officer, what you can't pay an officer. Just can't arbitrarily start giving more money to solve the problem which we would if we could, but you can't. You have to pay what the documents and contracts identify as. If not, then you are out of order," said Mayor Hall.
Meanwhile, Mayor Hall is looking at other options.
"There are things that are not really money-driven, but things that we can do, and we are going to try to do those things to try to hold on to a lot more officers," said Mayor Hall.
He insists the city is safe.
"The officers are doing extra duty, and they're doing an excellent job of it. We do not work in a way that we would have people in unnecessary danger period, that's not what we're trying to do," said Mayor Hall.
On a different note, the City of Lafayette gave their officers a pay raise just this week. The starting salary will go from $34,000 dollars to 40,000 dollars, about a 17-percent increase.
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