EUNICE, LA — $19,656. That’s the starting salary for a Eunice Police Officer.
By comparison, the starting salary for a Lafayette Police Officer is $32,000 at its lowest, falling not too far behind the national average of just under $38,000.
“It’s an eye opener,” Chief Ronald Dies, Eunice Police Department, said. “I was really unaware of what they were making until I started reviewing their pay stubs.”
When Chief Dies took over on January 1, 2011, his officers didn’t approach him with concern regarding pay.
“They’re too proud to say anything,” he said. “They’re just normal people trying to do something they really enjoy. They don’t live in lavish homes. They don’t have fancy cars. They’re just trying to pay their bills.”
Rather, he became aware of the situation when a female officer asked a simple question.
“She asked me if she could run to the bank really quick to deposit her paycheck,” he recalled. “She told me that the gas company had just called because they were cutting her service off. I asked her if she was serious and she said she was and that it happened nearly every month. She’s living paycheck to paycheck.”
That officer, he learned, has a 3-year-old daughter she’s raising alone. The cost for daycare alone is $600 a month, which is just under half her monthly take-home pay.
“I just want to keep good people and show that we can take care of those who work hard and risk their lives for us every day,” Chief Dies explained.
Retaining new officers has become increasingly problematic for the department due to the pay scale that is just above the national poverty level.
“Right now we are understaffed,” Deputy Chief Vardin Guillory, Eunice Police Department, said. “We are supposed to have six patrol officers per shift. Right now we only have four.”
Although Eunice PD recently hired six new officers, they believe it’s only a matter of time before that search starts all over again.
“We’re fighting the battle of a revolving door,” Guillory said. “It is mandatory that every new officer complete a certain level of training within their start date. The training takes about 6 months.”
For every officer they hire, that training costs the department $25,000, which would be a small price to pay for an officer who was at the beginning of a long career.
“They end up leaving because of the pay,” Guillory noted. “Other agencies nearby will wait until they are done with the training here, then they will actively scout them out and offer them a job for more money.”
That is, of course, if they make it through the training.
“We just had an applicant who turned down the job because he was offered more money to work at Wal-Mart,” Guillory explained. “He has over 20 years of military and previous law enforcement experience. He applied for a job here, but about a week in he told us that he was going to go work for Wal-Mart instead.”
Chief Dies presented all of these issues, along with lengthy research, at a City Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 11. Along with the information he presented a request for a $1.50 pay raise. Although the information was well-received by council members, they say last night was only the first step in a long journey.
“The Chief presented a real problem. It’s been a problem,” Councilman Jack Burson said. “It was entirely appropriate to present the facts of the problem, but it’s going to take a lot of study and work to figure out someway to deal with it.”
The council will consider the issue for the next 30 days.
“The thing that has to be remembered for pay regarding civil service positions is that when you give an entry level position a pay increase, it has to be carried out through the ranks. You also have to increase the pension obligations as well as other factors. There are a lot of consequences to it that must be considered.”
Councilman Burson believes the next step is to have CPA’s examine what those ramifications would be and how they would impact the city budget.
“If you’re in local government, you have to realize that Santa Clause is dead, and nothing comes without a price,” he said.
Eventually, that price tag could be determined with a vote.
“If the past is any guide, it will be decided by tax payers,” Councilman Burson said.
Although a long process will unfold before any final decision can be made, Chief Dies is confident he will find support from the public in moving forward.
“I believe if the citizens are made aware of the issue, they will do the right thing,” he said. “We’re solving more crimes. We’re working much harder and getting paid the same amount of money. These officers are putting their lives on the line to make these arrests. Expenses have gone up and the cost of living has gone up. We just want to make people aware of that.
“We’re tired of good officers leaving to go other places for the pay,” he added. “That’s the most important thing to let the tax payer know. Let’s keep these officers here instead of letting them go work somewhere else.”
Eunice has a population of just under 12,000. So far this year they have made a total of 519 drug related arrests, 137 DWI arrests, and 187 arrests for theft or burglary.