With Officers Leaving, Williston Boosts Police Pay
Officers of the Williston Police Department say they have already felt positive effects from a $2,000-a-year pay raise that began on Feb. 1.
The boost came after Williston Chief of Police Dennis Strow went before the City Council on Jan. 24 to request emergency pay raises for all officers and dispatchers but excluding himself.
Council members unanimously approved the $2,000 raise for police officers as well as for the city's lone animal control and code enforcement officer, while dispatchers got an extra $1,000 annually.
This takes officers' starting pay to $32,000 from $30,000 per year, and dispatchers’ to $25,000 from $24,000.
The council's president, Charles Goodman, told WUFT News on Wednesday that the need for police raises comes as the city's force has seen its officers getting jobs elsewhere, specifically noting the Levy County Sheriff’s Office and the Gainesville Police Department.
“We weren’t matching the pay that could keep our officers" in Williston, he said. "They have to live, too.”
The city used contingency funds to provide the raises for the remainder of the fiscal year, Goodman said.
Clay Connolly, Williston's deputy chief of police, said the pay situation had hit "a crisis point."
"And the council recognized that and said, ‘We’re going to have to fix this,’” he said.
According to data that Strow provided to the council, some local departments’ starting salaries were $10,000 more than Williston’s:
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Prior to the raises, Williston police had three officers leave and were left with a nine for what is normally a 12-officer force.
“We already wear multiple hats because we’re an 11- or 12-man police department,” Connolly said. “We have to work shifts, we have to work investigations, and we have to do a lot of things that, typically, other departments don’t.”
Since the raise, the department has filled two of the three vacancies, Connolly said. Each time a position is filled, it takes eight to 10 weeks to train the hiree.
The Williston Police Department’s staffing problem is typical, said Fred Shenkman, who has taught criminology at the University of Florida for 40-plus years and is an expert in law-enforcement analysis.
“This is not a unique problem or a unique phenomenon. It’s an ongoing problem," he said. "People have no idea the average police department has 14 officers. The median-size police department in the United States is just about exactly the size of the Williston Police Department.”
Of the more than 18,000 police departments across the country, 50 percent of them have 10 or fewer officers, and 75 percent have 25 or fewer, Shenkman said.
"It takes just about five police officers to have one police officer on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. "People think, 'Well, if you have 14 officers, maybe a third of them are working at a time.' It takes a lot of police officers to get that kind of coverage."
Part of the problem, he said, is that smaller towns still deal with the same problems large cities do but with less resources.
“They have the same kinds of crime as everybody else does,” Shenkman said. “They have murders, and they have domestic violence, and they have drug problems. So it’s not like small-town police only deal with small-town problems.”
Goodman said Williston police are forced to take things one step at a time.
“Next budget, we have to try and find the funds within the constraints of the budget to continue to keep salaries at the rate they are,” Goodman said. “It’s a difficult thing to be a police officer these days, and I understand that.”
This story has been updated with additional information from Shenkman.