EagleHerald Staff Writer
MENOMINEE—Menominee County Sheriff’s officers are set to receive $2,500 in retention bonuses from federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, and Sheriff Mike Holmes will sponsor police academy recruits in a new hiring program, due partly to a national shortage of law enforcement officers.
The commissioners unanimously agreed to several new sheriff’s office recruitment and retention programs, including the one-time bonuses to be paid in January 2023 to current road patrol employees. The incentives also will be paid to new hires after six months of service.
The program’s total cost could be $25,000, if three vacancies are filled. Seven deputies are expected to receive the incentive pay. Similar $2,500 incentives were approved for the undersheriff, lieutenant and three sergeants in the road patrol, with $12,500 in ARPA funds to be used for the one-time stipends.
To bolster the sheriff’s recruiting efforts, the county board also approved the establishment of a Law Enforcement Academy Sponsorship Program, where the county pays for a recruit’s training if the recruit agrees to work for the county for three years. Recruits who sign the agreement but leave before three years would have to reimburse the county for tuition on a prorated schedule, said County Administrator Jason Carviou.
The estimated cost per sponsored recruit is $35,549, including $20,724 in wages, $6,000 in academy tuition and uniforms, $3,025 in housing, $4,400 in food, $800 in travel and $600 in ammunition and other expenses.
“That’s essentially a $6,000 bonus we’re giving a young kid, not only that, but a 2,500 retention bonus for recruitment, that’s $8,500,” Mike Holmes said.
“It is a substantial investment,” Carviou said.
Commissioner David Prestin said he hopes the program works, but asked for it to be reassessed after a year or two to determine whether it is “prudent, frugal and effective” going forward. “My worry is that we pass this and it’s not effective. It’s a large sum of money for an individual,” Prestin said. “We have a duty of oversight.”
Carviou said the program has advantages in recruiting. “We’ve seen some interest already if we do offer this program,” he said.
Prestin said a similar approach has been used for EMS recruiting, but some of the recruits have jumped ship after the term of agreement, so it’s not always cost effective.
Holmes said the program should encourage recruits to stay in Menominee for at least three years. “If it’s not cost effective, we move on.”
So many law enforcement departments are using sponsorships that only a small number of police academy recruits are available upon graduation for departments that don’t. Northern Michigan University has 26 people in the academy, and 16 are sponsored, Holmes said.
“This is the direction law enforcement is headed at this time, as opposed to what I went through 27 years ago. All of us were putting ourselves through. There were very few people that were sponsored,” Holmes said.
As part of the program, the commissioners approved the Personnel Committee’s recommendation to create a “patrol officer recruit” job classification, allowing the county to hire recruits attending a police academy.
After 16 weeks of training, the recruits would be promoted to “probationary patrol officers” and receive a wage increase. They also would become eligible for benefits and union representation while continuing for 12 more weeks of training, Carviou said. Wages for patrol officer recruits can’t exceed the hourly wage for entry-level patrol officers, according to the Letter of Agreement between Menominee County and General Teamsters Local Union No. 406.
To open the door to recruiting of more experienced patrol officers, the commissioners approved a hiring policy change allowing Menominee County to hire a new road patrol officer at any pay level or “step,” instead of limiting new hires to step 2 or 3 on the wage scale. The change will allow Holmes to compensate new hires according to their experience, qualifications and education.
A pay increase is scheduled to take effect Oct. 1 for road patrol officers, with hourly pay for entry-level officers rising to $24.55 from $23.95, and pay for those with four years of experience rising to $26.90 from $26.25. For every five additional years of experience, patrol officers receive an hourly increase of 12.5 cents per hour. In October 2023, road patrol officers are scheduled to receive another 2.5% increase, bringing the hourly wage for a patrol officer with four years of experience to $27.58.