Funds Proposed For Police Retention

Funds Proposed For Police Retention
File photo by Chris Parypa

BERLIN – A proposal to use money budgeted for a Flower Street roundabout to instead support the police department is expected to be discussed by the Berlin Town Council Monday.

Councilman Jack Orris confirmed this week he plans to suggest the town devote the $122,000 it had set aside for a roundabout on Flower Street to the police department instead. Citizens have taken to social media in recent months to express concern about the small department’s struggle to retain officers.

“The roundabout is a process that could take years and additional costs for property acquisition, stormwater management and engineering, to name a few things,” Orris said. “We don’t need it — but we do need to help our police department.”

As residents continue to express concern regarding the Berlin Police Department’s limited staffing, Orris, who noted that law enforcement agencies were struggling with recruitment nationwide, said the town’s department was still playing catchup. While police in Berlin received a 9% pay increase a few years ago, neighboring agencies have since upped their pay and in some cases are offering lucrative bonuses.

“In my view, there seems to be a mixture of reluctance to join the occupation nationally and here in town a little bit of trying to play catchup,” he said.

To address the issue, he believes the town should continue to pursue the LEOPS (Law Enforcement Officers Pension System). The town included funding for a LEOPS study in this year’s budget.

“Berlin is one of the only municipalities without it and it would be helpful in recruiting,” Orris said.

He added that the town had a nice new police station with plenty of space for more personnel.

“We also need to get more boots on the ground,” he said. “Not only to help our existing law enforcement officers and staff, but as Berlin grows in residents, as is indicated in the census, and visitors, things like patrol and enforcement would logically ramp up.”

He’s hopeful that forgoing the roundabout idea and diverting the funds to the police department will allow for some much needed retention and recruitment efforts.

“I’ll defer to Chief [Arnold] Downing on best practices for these efforts and look to work with the chief and his department and the mayor and council to investigate, assess and find sustainable funding sources for our police,” he said.

Councilman Jay Knerr said the idea put forward by Orris was on target.

“The roundabout is unnecessary but Berlin Police Department recruitment and retention is,” he said. “We definitely need to up the ante in order to have police officers that want to work and stay in our department. LEOPS is the next logical step…It’s unfortunate that we are behind the curve in addressing this issue.”

In May, Downing said the 14-member department had two officers on medical leave and two vacancies. Though the town hired one new officer last month, the individual still needs to go through the academy.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.