February 22, 2005
Many police officers are working overtime to make up for the shortage of officers in our area. Albemarle County Police Lt. John Teixeira said filling these open positions has been difficult because "what happens is all the police departments are fishing the same pool."
Charlottesville has at least six open positions. Albemarle County police need to hire about a dozen officers or one tenth of its force. And filling these open positions is an ongoing battle.
"Essentially we are constantly trying to attract new officers because we lose people to the federal government and the private industry and attrition at a pretty high rate significantly over the last several years," said Dwayne Jones, President of the Police Officers Association.
Starting salary for a Charlottesville officer is just more than $31,000.
In the county starting pay is less than that at $28,000.
When you look at police departments across the state, in some cases the starting pay can be $8,000 to $10,000 higher than it is here.
"In the last two years we have made some significant changes in starting salaries that have brought us in line with other departments we arguably could be competing with," said Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo.
The county has also made efforts to increase salaries. And even though the city pays more, the county has a more extensive disability protection plan in place.
"If an officer was shot in the line of duty, there is nothing in place right now that would protect him [or] give him lifetime benefits like the county and the state have in place," said Jones.
Charlottesville's high cost of living and expensive housing market makes it difficult for officers to live and interact in the city they serve.
"I just bought a house in Waynesboro because I couldn't afford a home here," said Officer Casson Reynolds. "This is not a job where you are going to get rich but at the same time we need to pay people a livable wage," added Teixeira.
Even with a shortage of officers, both the city and county stress the community is safely protected and they continue to aim to increase salaries and improve benefits. For some, however, this is not fast enough.
"I think we need to strive to provide benefits for public safety officers, fire and police, that are comparable to the top 1/3 in the state of Virginia at least," said Jones.
There is an upcoming program that will help officers buy homes within the city and a plan to increase disability benefits for Charlottesville officers shot in the line of duty.