Police Chief Brian James at the City Council work session on Tuesday, March 23, discussed the staffing issues and the problems recruiting new officers.
James said that from the last Police Academy class the department had 11 graduates in the training program. For the Police Department to get back up to full force, James said they needed to have 40 people in the next Police Academy class and continue to have 40 in the next several classes.
When asked about the difficulties in recruiting new police officers, James said, “The pay is probably the most glaring thing that jumps out.”
He said, “If you’re 23 years old, you’re going to look at what the pay is.”
James said that recruits are choosing to work at a nearby departments that pay more, but close enough that they can still hang out in Greensboro.
James said that the pay had “fallen behind.” In other words, nearby cities and counties have given their law enforcement officers raises while Greensboro has not.
James bears no responsibility for police salaries. He has only been chief since Feb. 1, 2020, and the chief doesn’t have the authority to set salaries, that is the role of the City Council.
The current City Council was elected in 2017 and is completely responsible for the Greensboro city budget, including police salaries in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan agrees that the Greensboro Police Department salaries are lower than they should be, as do other city councilmembers. At a recent meeting Vaughan went over the starting salaries at other police departments in the state, noting how low Greensboro’s salaries are by comparison. What Vaughan and nobody on the City Council has admitted is that it is the fault of the City Council that Greensboro police salaries are no longer competitive.
Vaughan has been mayor since 2013. Councilmember Yvonne Johnson has been on the City Council all but two years since 1993. City Councilmembers Marikay Abuzuaiter and Nancy Hoffmann were first elected in 2011.
But the entire City Council has been in office since 2017, and anytime during the past four years the City Council could have raised police salaries.
And it’s not like the City Council doesn’t like to spend money. So far the council has spent nearly $900,000 on the Cure Violence program run by Councilmember Johnson and the mental health team to accompany police officers on calls, has a cost of $500,000 a year.
It also raised the minimum wage for all city employees to $15 an hour and it created a brand new department, Creative Greensboro, in 2019.
The fact that the city set a new record for homicides in 2019 did not get the City Council to take action to make police salaries competitive, nor did having seven murders in seven days in July 2020. James held a press conference requesting help from the community, but the City Council took no action.
The City Council did hold a work session on violent crime on Dec. 7, 2020, after the city had already had 57 homicides in the year, but as a result of that work session no action was taken.
Now with the Police Department down 72 police officers and the city on course to have over 100 homicides in 2021, the City Council held another work session on the Police Department and discussed the salary issue.