Police union renews pay, retention issues

·6 min read

Dec. 7—A union representative for Joplin police officers asked the Joplin City Council on Monday night for the council's immediate attention to police officer pay that he said is driving more officers from service here.

During the public comments by Shelby Howard, a retired 20-year veteran of the Joplin department, he said talks between city administration and representatives of the police department have resumed over pay and officer retention.

In addition to expectations from victims, offenders, witnesses, management, government mandates, legal and family as well as those officers place on themselves, "there also is an immense social pressure for police officers to perform a highest level of proficiency, accuracy and professionalism, and rightfully so."

Police jobs hold expectations that are different from other government jobs, Howard said.

"Becoming a police officer and wearing a badge representing the city of Joplin should never be an easy task," he said. "Police officers should never be considered just another employee the city of Joplin must provide. A police officer should be a highly vetted person to be trusted to carry the weight of the expectations I cited."

He said it takes up to five years for police officers to become trained and experienced enough to meet those expectations.

"Therefore, if the city wants experienced and quality police officers to effectively and efficiently maintain the expectations set forth by all the stakeholders involved, the city's leadership must take immediate steps that are designed to retain police officers, and that time is now," Howard said.

Police officers understand they may not be compensated at the level of the expectations, but they expect to be paid a fair amount compared with all alternatives. He said that many officers have chosen to leave the city because of money or to leave policing for jobs in the private sector that pay more money than law enforcement.

Howard said that as officers leave, creating vacancies, existing officers experience a heavier workload and must work more overtime to fulfill the obligations of the police department to protect residents.

"They are finding themselves taking more dangerous calls with less help. They are tired. They are worried, and I pray all of this doesn't lead to disastrous consequences" for residents, officers and their families, Howard said.

He described conditions at the department as "bleak and heartbreaking," asking the council for immediate attention and its leadership.

Council member Anthony Monteleone asked if City Manager Nick Edwards has taken any action on a letter the city administration received several weeks ago from the police representation.

The city manager said he and the city attorney have met with Howard and other members of the Fraternal Order of Police twice since the letter and are planning to have another meeting. "We are anxious to move the dialogue forward," Edwards said.

Moneteleone said he would appreciate any action the city administrators could take in response to the FOP concerns.

Council member Phil Stinnett said there are issues with maintaining employment in the public sector. He doesn't have exact answers and doesn't want to interject the council in the day-to-day operations of the city, which under the City Charter is relegated to the city manager.

He said that previous council members under the leadership of Gary Shaw when he last served as mayor had met with city administrators and representatives of police and fire to address similar concerns of police and firefighters about wages, vacancies within the departments and retention of trained personnel.

He asked why council leadership had not been involved in those recent meetings as they had before the city filed Proposition B, a half-cent sales tax to retire the underfunded Police and Firefighters Pension Fund, to free up money from the general fund to increase wages of city workers.

Stinnett wanted council leadership to be involved again to listen to ongoing discussions.

He said the city cannot throw money at a problem but that there ought to be some solutions that could be identified by talks.

Mayor Pro Tem Keenan Cortez said Stinnett is right. "We need to be involved to see the city do its best." Cortez said he and Howard are to meet this week and that he will bring a report back to council on that meeting.

Cortez said he believes that a loss of workers is a problem for communities across the country and, across different industries, employers are seeing fewer people taking critical jobs. Cortez said he is ready to do what's in his power to find a resolution and that he did not want to see service provided to residents to be lessened in any way.

Councilman Chuck Copple, a retired firefighter who was part of the talks before the 2019 passage of Proposition B, said he echoes Stinnett's comments.

Copple asked the city manager why those earlier dialogues with public safety workers stopped. He said he was at several of those retention meetings as a representative of retirees.

"That was some of the most positive work I had seen between the city and public safety groups," and resulted in fire and police working with city officials to educate the community on the Proposition B ballot proposal.

"They did a tremendous job," Copple said of the police and firefighters who went door to door to show support for the proposal. "As soon as that got passed, those communications stopped until last four to six weeks. That was a slap in their face," he said of the public safety workers.

He said he understands the city doesn't have an infinite amount of money to address a problem, "but we should be taking steps."

Council member Diane Reid Adams said she has met informally with representatives of the FOP. She spoke in favor of the city conducted an internal equity study on pay and an allocation study for positions and pay.

Mayor Ryan Stanley said he had also met with FOP representatives and with the city manger and city attorney.

He said he supports having a work group to rework compensation and conducting pay studies.

Stinnett said he does not think a mayor and mayor pro tem should lead the dialogue on pay. "My intention is for the council to have a set of ears in those meetings," Stinnett said.

Shaw said that as a result of his previous experience in meetings with public safety workers, he learned that "we don't, a lot of times, understand the nitty-gritty. ... The city manager, those are his employees. But it doesn't hurt the council to know some of those things going on because the council will ultimately make the decisions."

The council was in agreement that the mayor and mayor pro tem should sit in on the meetings. He said they would report back to council at the next meeting Dec. 20 about what is discussed and any next steps that are proposed.

Cortez said he hopes that the public safety workers "know this is not them against us. We are one. We are Joplin. We want to be together. We want to work this out. It may take some time, but we will work this out."

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