Sidwell asks council for 15% police pay hike

Minutes after the Henderson City Council voted to indefinitely table a budgeted raise for employees and to strip a portion of city employees of their retirement health insurance benefits, Henderson Police Chief Keith Sidwell asked members for a 15% across-the-board raise for sworn officers in his department, excluding his office.

The police chief told council members that it would allow the Henderson Police Department to compete with the entry level salaries of other departments in the area.

The current average starting pay for a Henderson Police Department officer is $26,127. Average starting pay in the area is $31,917.

The proposed raise would elevate the starting salary to over $29,000.

Sidwell entered his request with the council after narrating a PowerPoint presentation which responded to a question posed by council member Mike Rainey at a previous council meeting. At that meeting, Rainey asked the police chief to provide an “optimal number of officers” it would take to make the city safer.

In his presentation, Sidwell noted that the population density of Henderson compares to the larger cities in North Carolina. He also said that the cost of service has risen since 1996, when the current staffing level of 58 officers was established.

In the past eight years, calls for service have increased by over 11,000.

Henderson had the highest per capita crime rate in North Carolina in 2007. According to Sidwell, this rate was matched by the HPD in case clearance rates that “top” state and national averages.

Sidwell pointed out the accomplishments of his department since its reorganization in 2007, when Sidwell succeeded former Henderson Police Chief Glen Allen who now serves as the chief of the City of Clayton. Those achievements are:

  • Obtaining ten bicycles and training bike officers at no cost to the public
  • Routine business checks
  • Creating a crime analyst position to help trace crime patterns as well as to forecast and prevent crime
  • Introduction of Power Shift to help officers respond to calls during peak hours
  • The purchase of 44 cars at no cost to the taxpayer (through drug seizure forfeiture assets)
  • The addition of three police canines
  • The implementation of a Church Watch program through the existing Community Watch program
  • The adoption of fifteen cases into the federal judicial system
  • The Henderson Police Department’s receipt of international accreditation from CALEA (Commission for Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies) and the achievement of Flagship Status
  • Sidwell told members that the CALEA accreditation “means a great deal” to Fortune 500 companies looking to relocate.

    Bring police pay to the forefront, Sidwell showed council members that of 54 individuals leaving the employ of the department between 2001 and 2008, 38 voluntarily separated due to issues of pay.

    “Would you like a department full of rookie officers?” Sidwell asked members. The chief said that it takes three years for officers to “really get it down” when beginning a career in law enforcement in a community.

    The chief told members that officers “are here because they want to be here,” but that “want takes a back seat to need”.

    Sidwell also asked members for a more liberal vehicle policy that would allow officers to take vehicles fifteen miles out of Vance County, and further if the officers pay a predetermined gas reimbursement to the city.

    The change would affect a total of nine officers.

    After asking for the salary adjustment, Sidwell noted that police officers differ from other city employees in that they must meet strict guidelines, attend BLET (Basic Law Enforcement Training), train twenty-fours hours a year to maintain certifications, go through sixteen weeks of field training, and go through the CALEA certification process.

    Only 40 of 425 North Carolina agencies have the CALEA certification.

    “I don’t want to continue this cycle [of hiring and re-hiring] and lose this money,” Sidwell said after noting that each new hire costs the city approximately $40,000 in salary, training, and equipment.

    After the presentation, member Mike Inscoe asked how Henderson compares to other communities with unemployment and increased crime rates. Sidwell responded by noting that there is a direction correlation between unemployment and crime, but also said that there is a correlation between the number of rental properties and crime.

    Transient [residents] are not stakeholders, Sidwell said. He also asked rhetorically if those who are renting actually work, or if they are paying rent through criminal enterprises. He said that “safeguards” can be put in place [to prevent such situations], but that it has to be done as a community.

    Rainey asked again what an optimal number of police would be to deter crime. Sidwell responded by asking for full staffing, something the department has not had since he took over as chief.

    Member Lonnie Davis asked how 58 became a “standard number” [of sworn officers]. Sidwell said that three officers per 1,000 population is a national standard, but that the number is “antiquated”.

    During a brief council discussion, Davis noted that sanitation workers are also “very very important”, reviving an old council debate as to whether police officers should be given raises apart from other city employees.

    Member Brenda Peace told Sidwell that he had “painted a beautiful picture”. Henderson Mayor Pete O’Geary told the chief that he thought his message was “well-received”.

    Members did not make plans to consider any action in committee or in future meetings.

    Editor’s note: The editor’s wife is a sworn police officer with over fourteen years of service to the Henderson Police Department.