Odessa Police Department asking for pay raises

Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke told the Odessa City Council it’s an employee’s market when it comes to police officers in Texas, and he’s asking for raises for his officers to help maintain staff levels.
“We have lost officers to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, to the Austin area, to the oilfield, and we’ve lost experience,” Gerke said. “Keep in mind, part of the difficulty with attracting officers to the area is the cost of living. The housing prices being what they are, that is a tremendous pressure.”
As it stands, OPD officers starting out make an annual salary of $53,952, and after two years, that salary goes up to $56,100. For officers who are promoted to corporal, which Gerke said the vast majority do after three years, they have an annual salary of $58,992, and get their salary bumped up to $62,334 after two years.
What Gerke is proposing is an immediate 5 percent salary increase to all OPD officers and corporals. This means no OPD sergeants, lieutenants, deputy chiefs, or Gerke himself would be receiving a pay raise from this.
But Gerke also said these increases would lead to pay increases to sergeants and lieutenants due to salary compression, a policy that a supervisor must make at least 5 percent more than the highest paid person below him. So that would increase some higher salaries, but Gerke said it would not increase his.
“With this initial 5 percent what I hope is to retain what I have,” Gerke said. “I just don’t want to bleed.”
Gerke said they have lost some officers, but have been able to maintain. Of the allocated 183 officers OPD is budgeted for, Gerke said they have 29 vacancies, plus 12 recruits currently in the academy, so really 42 vacancies until the next class graduates.
City Manager Michael Marrero said the city was also looking at giving a 3 percent raise across the board to city employees, including OPD employees. So some officers could see effectively an 8 percent pay raise come the start of the next fiscal year in October.
Gerke didn’t call the Midland Police Department a competitor right now, as he said they haven’t lost an officer to MPD in some time, but said they are in the process of raising their officers’ salaries, as well. He said a 10 percent pay raise for OPD officers, possibly through either a 10 percent pay raise now, or a 5 percent raise now and another 5 percent raise during budgeting, would still be slightly below MPD pay increases.
Marrero said the possibility of a 10 percent pay raise would be something the city would have to look at closely, but said a 5 percent raise would be possible to get done now. Interim Assistant City Attorney Cindy Muncy said they would like the 5 percent raise to kick in by July. Muncy said this would be paid for out of $1.8 million set aside by the city for a salary study, to be given out to employees who haven’t been paid appropriately.
District 1 Council Member Malcolm Hamilton asked Marrero to look at what it would take to get a 10 percent raise for officers, saying it would be a great recruitment tool.
At-Large Council Member Peggy Dean said they could do the 5 percent raise now and look at either a 5 percent or 3 percent raise during the budgeting period.
“We have a cushion here. We’ve got 29 open positions that we’re funding that nobody’s filling, so we have a pretty good cushion before we have too many employees, more than we needed,” Dean said.
Dean said not all job descriptions are created equal, and that public safety was one of their top priorities, which means some departments might not see a raise if officers and firefighters are underpaid.
“That’s not saying anything bad about the other department; that is saying that they are at a more appropriate scale than what these people are for what we need them to do,” Dean said.
District 2 City Council Member Dewey Bryant said he was in favor of the raises, bringing up the robust economy and the large number of people moving here and not leaving. The city has seen fluctuations in the past of people leaving, but Bryant said this didn’t happen during the 2016 bust.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to protect the citizens that are here, because it hasn’t fluctuated,” Bryant said.