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Are Fayetteville and Cumberland County law enforcement agencies facing an officer shortage?

Rachael Riley

The Fayetteville Observer

Area law enforcement agencies have seen a decrease in the number of officers on staff within the past year, which officials say is part of usual attrition and is not affecting response to public safety.  

In Fayetteville, there are 434 budgeted sworn, full-time officer positions and 10 part-time positions, a Fayetteville Police Department spokesman said. 

As of Monday, the department had 63 vacant full-time officer positions, said Sgt. Jeremy Glass, a spokesman for the department.  

Since March 2020, 96 sworn officers have left the department, with 71 of those positions being filled.

“Please keep in mind that mid-sized and large-sized agencies staffing levels are down across the nation, and throughout the state, based off of our research,” Glass said.

The Police Executive Research Forum surveyed agencies across the East and West coasts in 2018 and reviewed Department of Justice data between 2013 to 2016.

The survey found that retirement, career changes, and scrutiny and criticism of the profession, are among the reasons departments are finding it challenging to recruit and retain officers.

Police shortages have been reported in cities and states across the U.S. such as SeattleMinneapolisAtlantaDallasCharleston, West Virginia and Florida.  

It’s a matter that Police Chief Gina Hawkins brought up more than once at Fayetteville City Council meetings within the past year.  

In May, Hawkins told council members the pay difference between city police officers and other law enforcement agencies was causing some retention problems for her department. 

“We have quality officers in our city, and we’re losing them to other cities,” Hawkins said. 

Council members voted in June to increase pay for police officers, 911 dispatchers and firefighters to make their wages more competitive with departments in other cities. 

The budget increased an officer’s starting pay from $34,000 to $38,000 per year; with a pay increase to $39,750 after one year.

Related:Fayetteville police chief says many crimes up, officer morale low

In November, Hawkins told council members morale was an issue and that department employees seemed to no longer view police work as a 20- or 30-year career. 

“Morale is low,” she told the council. “It’s low for a lot of different reasons, but we still are resilient. We are still doing our job.” 

)ther local agencies 

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department has 336 sworn officers, a spokesman said. 

As of March 29, the department had 68 full-time sworn spots to fill, said Lt. Sean Swain.

The number of vacancies is slightly up from 2020, when there were 49 spots to fill, he said. In 2019 there were 55 vacant spots;  in 2018 when there were 30 vacant spots; and in 2017 there were 37 vacant spots.  

Related:Fayetteville council members include themselves in bonus pay plan

Swain said other employment opportunities, terminations and employees who’ve moved from the area are all factors for those who left the department.  

The Hope Mills Police Department has 40 budgeted officer positions with eight vacancies, Chief Joel Acciardo said.  

Similar to the Fayetteville Police Department and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department, Acciardo said attrition — or normal turnover of officers taking positions with other departments or retiring — are reasons for the vacancies.  

“The turnover rate fluctuates from year to year, meaning, one year may see higher turnover than another, however, most of the time, vacancies can be filled with new hires in a reasonable amount of time with good candidates,” Acciardo said. “It has become apparent that the pool of quality candidates has become very competitive, which in turn, makes filling the current vacancies more challenging.”

Retaining and recruiting efforts

Glass cited the 2020 pay step increase and providing incentives as examples of efforts to retain officers in the city. 

Incentives include paid training; salaries starting at $38,000 and increasing to $39,750 after training; incentives for bachelor’s or associate’s degrees; a take-home car program for those who live in Cumberland County or in a 16-mile radius of the city; and incentives for a three-year commitment and relocation assistance of $2,000 for inexperienced candidates and $6,000 for experienced candidates.

Related:Major crimes increase in Fayetteville in first quarter of year, police chief tells council

Glass said despite the challenges in the career field, Fayetteville reduced crime in 2020 and “brought it to its lowest point in the last 10 years.” 

“While we appreciate the work that has been done, our department remains committed to ensuring a safe and secure community, and investing in our most valuable asset — our personnel,” he said.  

When the department is fully staffed, the number of officers per capita is about 2.05 per 1,000 residents. That’s close to the Federal Bureau of Investigations statistics of 2.1 officers per 1,000 residents.  

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