HENDERSON — Police Chief Marcus Barrow has asked the City Council to let him do some things to increase what the Henderson Police Department pays officers, in hopes of retaining more of the officers who hire on.

Barrow briefed council members on the proposal this week, and will return in March for further discussions as officials prepare to work on the city government’s fiscal 2021-22 budget.

The chief told council members that the Police Department was able to retain only 30 of the 80 officers it’s hired over the past decade, with 40 of the 50 officers who left citing pay, the department’s high call volume or its “inconsistent pay increases” as reasons for leaving.

“We stay consistent in applications, and we’re successful in hiring people, just not in retaining people,” Barrow said. “It shows that we’re hiring the right people if 40 have left to go to other agencies. We just need to retain them.”

The long-term result is that a majority of the department’s officers have less than five years of experience. It also has 10 vacancies, out of a budgetary authorization of 52.

Five other officers on the payroll are completing their field training and thus aren’t yet able to patrol the city on their own, and two are going through their Basic Law Enforcement Training classwork. One officer has let officials know he or she is pursuing a job with the Wake Forest police.

Just as its big-city counterpart in Durham, the Henderson Police Department loses officers to competition from Wake County communities like Cary and Apex, Barrow said. But it’s also seen officers leave to go to work in Charlotte, and to nearby competitors like the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

“They’re not leaving us to go to the Franklin sheriff’s office for a great deal more money, but [there’] a reduction in calls” they can expect to have to deal with during a single shift, Barrow said, adding that the City Council’s signaled interest in hearing more in March about how the Henderson department’s call volume stacks up to its peers.

The vacancies mean that department’s set up to expand about $800,000 less on wages and benefits than its existing, 2020-21 budget had allowed. Barrow wants to apply a bit less than $50,000 toward the effort to beef up pay, and then continue that going forward using the slack in future budgets left by the completion of some repairs and equipment purchases.

The starting salary at the Henderson police is $38,694 for a fully trained officer. There’s a 5-% increase that comes after a year on the force, and another that comes with accumulation of further training that goes beyond the state’s requirements.

But after that, there’s no automatic increase that’s tied to seniority, as opposed to promotion to sergeant and beyond.

Barrow’s proposal calls for giving officers a 0.25-% increase for every year of service, up to a limit of 5% for 20-year veterans and above.

He also wants officials to “reclassify” positions in the department, to give everyone up to the level of assistant chief a potential bump.

Officers who are part of the department’s special-response team — its version of a SWAT unit — currently don’t get any extra pay for the duty, but Barrow wants to change that. K-9 handlers would get a bit of overtime pay, and detectives who have to be on call to handle overnight cases would get paid for that time.

Council members were “very receptive,” and one, Jason Spriggs, asked officials to have a look at the implications of raising the department’s starting salary to the $41,000-to-$42,000 range, Barrow said.

Mayor Eddie Ellington confirmed that the plan now is to resume the discussion on March 6, the council having used its time so far “to consider all options moving forward with the upcoming budget year.”

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.