Fort Smith police pay raises will help in ‘retaining quality’ officers

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 414 views 

Pay raises for Fort Smith police officers, approved by the Fort Smith Board of Directors Jan. 17, will be vital to meeting the public safety demands of the city over the next five years, FSPD Chief Danny Baker said.

The Board of Directors passed an ordinance that set a new step schedule for the police department and pay raises for all uniformed employees of the police department as well as pay raises for city employees and the uniformed employees of the Fort Smith Fire Department.

Baker proposed in April 2022 when the board of directors was seeking a continuation of a sales tax that would partially go to the police department to use revenue from the sales tax to boost all salaries by 23.87% and begin adding five officers a year beginning in 2028 if the sales tax was approved. The pay boost would bring base pay up to $50,000 and cost about $2.3 million a year.

Almost 57% of city residents voting in the May 24 election approved the 0.75% sales tax extension that will see 83.3% of the tax revenue supporting federally mandated sewer system improvements, with the remainder directed to the FSPD.

“I am very grateful to the voters and taxpayers in Fort Smith. They approved the sales tax allocation to the police department knowing a large portion of it would be going to provide significant pay raises for our police officers,” Baker said after the board approved the pay ordinance.

The new step schedule takes Step 1 for uniformed officers and corporals from $19.41 an hour to $24.04 or roughly $50,000 a year. Steps are included for sergeants, lieutenants, captains and deputy chiefs. The highest rank listed on the 2023 salary schedule included in the ordinance is deputy chief, Step 3 with an annual salary of approximately $112,551.

According to the ordinance, the new salary schedule will not go into effect until July 10, and no employee of any rank will receive a step increase through Dec. 31. Uniformed officers hired from April 3 through July 9, will be hired at the entry level of the 2022 pay schedule.

“All officers, besides myself, will be getting a 24% raise. We are freezing any step increases in 2023. They will start back in 2024,” Baker said.

Deputy Chief Jason Thompson said the approved raise allows the department’s employees to be compensated at a premier level and comparable with every agency in the state.

“An immediate improvement (for the department) will be in recruiting and retaining quality police officers suited to the demands of 21st Century policing,” Thompson said. “Police agencies across the country are competing for the same pool of candidates. In recent years, agencies have been losing quality employees and candidates to other higher-paying agencies and even companies within the private sector due to better wages.”

The benefits of the salary increase will trickle down through the city, Thompson said. He noted that the raise should equate to cost savings for the city by not making the FSPD a training stop for officers ultimately seeking higher-paying positions.

“Fully staffing the department and retaining those officers will be instrumental in the department’s continuing efforts to reduce crime, enforce traffic laws, foster community engagement and community partnerships, and help those individuals suffering from mental and behavioral health issues,” he said.

Thompson also said the pay increase also reflects the department’s relationship with Fort Smith citizens.

“This pay increase is a testament to the positive relationship our agency has with the community that we serve and will help our agency continue to provide the high level of quality service that this community deserves,” Thompson said.