With Benefits Safe, Police Resume Search For New Officers

October 15, 2009

The search is back on for three new police officers for West University Place, now that Police Chief Ken Walker is sure he won’t have to go back on his word about the top-tier retirement benefits that would come with their $46,000-per-year salaries.

The city needs three new officers after two officers were fired this year, and another left West U. to work for the U.S. Secret Service. But Walker put a hold on the job search in July, when Mayor Bob Kelly began discussing cuts to the city’s retirement plan.

“The problem at the time was we didn’t want to recruit applicants telling them their retirement system was one thing, and then change it,” Walker said.

Kelly was considering cuts as a possible way to pay for renovations to the police station without having to raise taxes. In July, Kelly wrote an email to City Manager Michael Ross:

“Please find a way for the City to pay for it without a tax increase….i.e. cuts in the existing budget (I realize this may have to come from some employee expenses since that item is a major part of the City’s budget) and/or additional revenues.”

Read more about the changes Kelly proposed, and other council members’ responses.

Walker said he felt comfortable resuming the job search after a Sept. 26 budget workshop, where it was clear the majority of the city council opposed cutting retirement benefits.

“They have to vote on it again, but we got a very good indication of what they were going to do after the first vote,” Walker said.

One new patrol officer did come on board in August, during the retirement-benefits debate. Walker said he made it clear to the officer there was a possibility that the city council may cut benefits.

The West U Police Department’s budget can support 23 patrol officers, but right now it employees only 20. The department can handle public safety in West U with that number, but it’s not a good idea to go lower.

“If it gets below that, we have to start using overtime,” Walker said.

The department is recruiting for the three open positions by advertising on the Website of the Texas Municipal League, advertising in other police publications and by visiting police academies with students near graduation.

Applicants must jump through a lot of hoops to be police officers, such as passing an entry level test and completing extensive physical and psychological testing. Filling positions can sometimes take a long time because it’s not easy to find good, qualified applicants for the job, Walker said.

“I don’t know of any police departments in the state of Texas that have an easy time finding good applicants to hire,” he said. “To compete for the limited pool of applicants, we have to have our salary and benefits competitive … Even discussing possible cuts in benefits can hurt our recruiting efforts.”

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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