Arlington's Police Force Makes It to Full Staffing


(Wednesday, November 15, 2006 8:08 AM EST)

After working towards the goal for four years, and increasing starting pay several times to meet it, Arlington's police department is now fully staffed.

“I'm just thrilled that after almost four years of trying many different things, we've achieved our goal,” Police Chief Douglas Scott said. “But that's only half of it. We have to sustain it.”

The County Board has authorized the police department to employ up to 365 sworn officers. For years, as hiring has not kept pace with the number of officers leaving the department, officers have found themselves stretched thin, Scott said.

Getting to full strength has come at a cost.

In January 2006, with the approval of the county manager and County Board, the entry-level base pay for police officers increased by five percent, bringing the yearly salary to $40,835. Six months later, another increase brought starting pay to $44,616.

Many of the county's police officers live in Fairfax and Prince William counties, where police jobs are plentiful.

“If we were ever going to fill these positions, we would have to improve salary competitiveness,” said Scott, who was appointed police chief in 2003. “If you're going to drive through those areas to get to work, we need to provide incentives.”

After the pay increases were approved, “We saw an immediate improvement in the quality of applicants and in the flow of applications,” Scott said.

Besides the higher starting pay, officers receive an increase of between 2 and 2.5 percent after graduating from the Police Academy, and another increase of 2 to 2.5 percent after completing their probationary year.

Since Police Academy training and field training takes 37 weeks, the county manager has also given Scott the ability to over-hire, keeping up to 375 people on hand.

“The ability to go over-strength will help us manage staying at or close to authorized strength because of the length of the training period,” Scott said.

The department runs two academies a year, and they're looking to offer a third, because of the gaps in filling positions on the street.

Once officers are trained and ready to go, retaining them is also a challenge. Over a five-year period, around 10 to 15 percent of the force leaves because of retirement, resignation or termination. But Scott has noticed this percentage lowering recently, especially among resignations.

He wants to keep the trend going.

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