Arkansas State Police need a pay raise to keep officers, agency director tells lawmakers

Arkansas State Police Superintendent Bill Bryant told state lawmakers on Tuesday that his agency’s goal is to raise the starting salary of state troopers by 42,357. $ to between $52,000 and $55,000 per year, as the salary lags behind other state police departments in the area.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has proposed a $7.4 million increase in the Arkansas State Police’s general revenue budget to $78 million for fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1.

The Republican governor said last week that he wanted to raise salaries for junior state troopers and benefit those with seniority in the coming fiscal year. Hutchinson wants to raise state police starting salaries to second among Southern states and set an example for local governments in Arkansas.

Bryant said the state police have 525 filled troop positions and 61 vacancies. Vacancies are expected to fall to 22 if all 39 recruits report to the training academy next week, he said.

Department of Public Safety Secretary Jami Cook and the department’s human resources staff are working closely with the state’s Office of Personnel Management to complete work on the salary increase plan “for try to avoid these problems with [salary] compression,” Bryant said Tuesday during budget hearings for the Arkansas Legislative Council and joint state agency budget committees ahead of the legislature’s budget session that begins Feb. 14.

“What we haven’t done in the past is we really haven’t recognized years of service or time and rank, and that’s resulted in some of our corporals earning more than our sergeants,” he said.

“If we got our [starting] salaries at $54,000 to $55,000 would be historic,” Bryant said. “It would be very competitive. That would put us behind Texas.”

Starting salaries for state troopers in Florida are about $38,000 a year, but in Texas they’re about $59,000 a year, he said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety pays its soldiers what’s called standby pay, so every week they get 10 overtime hours and that gives them a huge pay raise, Bryant said. An Arkansas state trooper with a starting salary of $42,537 in southern Arkansas can go to the Texas Department of Public Safety and earn $100,000 a year after five years, he said. -he declares.

In response to a question from Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, Bryant said he was aware of two Arkansas state troopers who left to be soldiers in Texas.

Bryant also said four Arkansas soldiers were shot in a six-month span in 2021, and that’s the highest level in his seven years as manager.

“Our people are doing historic things every day that no one ever hears about,” he said. “They do a great job and are dedicated to the job, but they have families to support, just like you and me. They have kids. It would be great if we increased that salary. We have a lot of people working second to jobs so they can feed their families.”

Rep. Mark Berry, R-Ozark, noted that the number of applicants for state trooper has increased from 1,373 for 2013 to 226 for this year.

Bryant said pay levels and increased law enforcement oversight have reduced the number of applicants.

“We are in crisis,” he said.

Bryant said making starting salaries competitive would be “a huge investment” for Arkansas and that Hutchinson “was right” that this plan would set an example for cities and counties to do the same for their forces. order.

Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, said state police will gain more city and county law enforcement personnel under the plan.

He questioned whether state officials considered the effect the plan would have on local law enforcement’s ability to retain officers.

Bryant said the culture of government must change to recognize the importance of law enforcement officers.

He said he would encourage city and county governments to follow the state police model and raise salaries to retain officers.

Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, said “encouraging is one thing.”

Some local governments in southern Arkansas probably couldn’t increase their budgets to raise officer salaries because they lose population every year and have lower budgets for public safety, he said.

Garner asked Bryant if it would make more sense for the state to take a broader step to raise the salaries of law enforcement officers statewide in order to recruit and retain them.

Bryant said state lawmakers should weigh this issue.

“It’s very complex, and I don’t think there’s a silver bullet to it,” he said.

Garner said the legislature should pass a tax credit or “something else” to help state and local law enforcement officers across the state.