Having good people is key no matter if you’re talking about a Fortune 500 company or one of the more than 400 law enforcement agencies across Kentucky.
When it comes to hiring good officers, chiefs and sheriffs spend a significant amount of time recruiting. Also, much energy is spent retaining talent in whom training dollars and resources already have been invested.
2018 Comprehensive Survey
For additional information about salaries, insurance, retirement and more, click here to download a PDF of the entire 2018 Comprehensive Survey.
The Department of Criminal Justice Training’s 2018 Comprehensive Survey revealed many things about Kentucky law enforcement in the category of personnel. The survey identified that the average number of sworn officers for all reporting agencies was 29, a 7.4 percent increase from 27 reported in the 2015 survey. These figures also include information provided by the Kentucky State Police, Lexington and Louisville Metro police departments.
Much goes into recruiting and retaining these officers, but no matter the agency, a lot of it boils down to one question: “How much will I make?”
Between 2015 and 2018, the average entry-level full-time salary for Kentucky law enforcement officers increased by more than 16 percent, according to the 2018 survey of agencies who responded to the salary question. For the purposes of this study, ‘salary’ is defined as base salary only. This does not include training/pay incentive, uniform allowance, signing bonuses or specialist pay.
In 2015, the average entry-level salary was $28,727, compared to the 2018 mark of $33,492. This figure represents law enforcement agencies across the state, from larger departments such as Lexington and Louisville Metro police departments, to state agencies such as Kentucky State Police and university and public school police departments.
The breakdown shows the average entry-level salaries in 2018 as follows:
Municipal police departments - $33,787
Sheriff’s offices - $31,625
State agencies - $34,641
University police departments - $35,292
Public school police departments - $33,815
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, the increase in law enforcement salaries from 2015 to 2018 was more than the inflation rate of that period by 10 percent.
The statewide average of $33,492 does not factor in incentives such as the Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program Fund (KLEFPF) or other compensation, for example shift differential pay
Conducted every three years, the survey shows Kentucky law enforcement’s salaries have seen a steady increase between the 2001 Comprehensive Survey ($19,812) and the current year.
The 2018 survey revealed entry-level pay across the state ranges from $10,000 for a part-time chief, in a one-person department (Sadieville, located in Scott County) to $66,290 at the St. Matthews Police Department in Jefferson County.
St. Matthews Maj. Tony Cobaugh said his agency traditionally hires certified officers with previous experience.
“This place is pretty unique,” Cobaugh said. “(We) haven’t hired a new hire (from the police academy) in over 20 years. Everyone who comes here either retired from another agency or is continuing their career from another agency.”
Still, offering a competitive salary is of the utmost importance to many chiefs and sheriffs across the state.
“We just reached out to four other neighboring law enforcement agencies which are similar in size,” Scottsville Police Chief Jeff Pearson said. “Though we are close in salary, we discovered our department is paying $1 less an hour for certified officers starting (their careers).”
The survey shows Scottsville’s entry-level pay was $31,536.
AVERAGE SALARY FOR A FULL-TIME, ENTRY-LEVEL, PEACE OFFICER
Without a competitive salary, many agencies become nothing more than a training ground for officers to gain experience and quickly move on, which interrupts continuity. This is the case in Lee County, according to Sheriff Wendell Childers.
“We’re more like a stepping stone,” Childers said. “Once they’re (hired) and they become certified, they will come to work for us for four or five months and they move on. Salary is a big thing for us. If we can’t provide a (decent) hourly rate, they’re going to go somewhere else.”
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office reported the lowest entry-level salary at $14,400 for a sheriff’s office, according to the survey. Along with the sheriff, the eastern Kentucky county has one full-time deputy and a part-time deputy, who work approximately 20 hours every two weeks.
On the other end of the sheriff’s office spectrum, the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office’s entry-level salary is $43,000, the survey showed. The average salary for a sheriff’s office was $31,365.
Since the survey was taken, Childers said he has been able to increase the entry-level salary, but not by much.
“We hired a deputy and put him through the academy. He’s making about $13 per hour, and when KLEFPF kicks in, he comes out pretty good,” Childers added. “He’s been here about eight months.”
Insurance, Retirement and Other Perks
Of course, money isn’t the only thing that factors into the equation. Typically, compensation packages include salary as well as insurance and retirement plans.
When asked in the survey about insurance benefits, 54 percent of responding agencies reported paying the full amount of a single-medical insurance cost in the past three years. That represents a 2 percent increase from the 2015 survey.
Having solid insurance and retirement plans helps Harrison County Sheriff Shain Stephens when it comes to attracting and retaining sworn officers, he said.
“It helps for sure,” Stephens said. “We offer a good insurance plan, and we offer hazardous duty retirement. The (Harrison County Fiscal Court) supports that, and my budget runs through the fiscal court.”
In Scottsville, Pearson said his city carries a policy that is nearly unheard of in other locations.
“The city has Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the city pays 100 percent for the employee and their family, and also covers their entire deductible,” he said. “They also pay vision and dental insurance for the employee and their family.”
In addition, Scottsville provides a $25,000 life-insurance policy to the employee at no cost, and gives officers the option of increasing amount at a cost depending on the degree of coverage the employee wants, Pearson added.
The survey showed 34 percent of those who responded provide partial medical insurance payment by the agency.
RESPONDING AGENCIES THAT COVER THE FULL COST OF MEDICAL INSURANCE POLICY
Nearly 93 percent of responding agencies provide sworn officers a retirement program. Of those, approximately 59 percent reported they provide a state or local hazardous retirement program.
The survey showed that 26 percent of agencies that responded offer non-hazardous (state) retirement for sworn personnel.
Stephens said his agency is fortunate to continue offering hazardous retirement.
“The regular non-hazardous retirement has to be a tough situation for other agencies,” he said. “I feel for them, but thank goodness we’re not in that situation.”
Pearson said having hazardous duty retirement bodes well in recruitment and retention.
“I feel that was the trade-off, because most often in the private sector, you can find jobs that pay more, but having a retirement where you can retire after 20 or 25 years means a lot,” he said.
More than 19 percent of responding agencies provide specialist pay to some of their officers. Approximately 24 percent provide specialist pay to field training officers or police training officers.
Seventy-four percent of responding agencies provide overtime pay for all sworn officers.
“Overtime pay began when we went to 12-hour shifts, with every other weekend off, two years ago, and since then, the officers feel they have much more time off,” Scottsville’s Pearson explained.
The survey also indicated 45 percent of responding agencies provide uniform pay/allowances to all sworn personnel, with the average uniform allowance at $708.
Take-home vehicles are a perk that 93 percent of responding agencies reported offering full-time officers. Seventy percent report vehicles are for official use only, and 23 percent of agencies allow officers to use agency vehicles for personal use.
Springfield Police Chief James Smith said allowing an officer to take a vehicle home is a win-win for the agency as a whole.
“(They’re) able to respond more quickly and (it’s) a partial incentive,” Smith said.
Pearson echoed Smith’s sentiments.
“The reason behind this is our officers can be called out at any time to assist with an incident where manpower is needed,” Pearson said. “(Our) officers are cross-trained in a lot of areas, such as crime-scene processing, and if they are called out, it is beneficial to not have to go pick up a vehicle.”
Putting out a help wanted sign isn’t usually a favorite task for hiring managers. But more often than not, it is a necessary evil in the day-to-day duties of a police chief or sheriff, as officers move on in their careers for one reason or another.
According to the survey, 98 percent of responding agencies conduct a formal application process for initial employment of sworn personnel.
This is the case in Muhlenberg County, where Sheriff Curtis McGehee says it all starts with the employment application.
“We look at those applications, and we will conduct a background check,” McGehee said. “If the background comes back clean and they have good references, we make sure they can pass the POPS (Peace Officer Professional Standards). That often plays into who we are able to hire.”
From there, McGehee begins the interview process, which includes a panel of supervisors. He said the agency is looking for deputies who have “soft skills,” meaning those who are personable and will relate well to the community.
Forty-three percent of responding agencies include a few more steps in the hiring process. A written exam is a key part, the survey showed. Additionally, 73 percent of responding agencies use a formal interview board for initial employment.
“Our hiring process consists of a written exam, multiple interviews, background investigation, polygraph, and medical and psychological testing,” said Paducah Police Chief Brandon Barnhill. “There are four categories covered in the (written) exam: reading, writing, math and grammar. The test is on an 11th-grade level.”
Barnhill said the written exam is proctored by the agency’s human resource department and is an entry-level exam furnished by Stanard and Associates Inc., a Chicago-based human resource consulting firm specializing in employee surveys, testing and assessment systems. Barnhill went on to say that a study guide with example questions is provided to each candidate so they will have a general idea of what to expect on the test.
Agencies such as the Paducah Police Department and Daviess County Sheriff’s Office mandate applicants have some college credit hours under their belts.
RESPONDING AGENCIES THAT REQUIRE EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE IN ADDITION TO THE HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA/GED THAT IS REQUIRED BY KRS15.382(3)
“We require 60 credit hours of college or four years of military experience,” Daviess County Sheriff Maj. Barry Smith said. “In this day and age, we want to see initiative beyond high school. It gives them a better baseline if they have college or military (experience) when entering a workforce such as law enforcement.”
Barnhill added that his agency’s 60 credit hours or military experience requirement produces a well-rounded applicant.
“We have benefited from these standards over the years,” he said.
The Daviess County Sheriff’s Office and Paducah Police Department are two of the 90 percent of responding agencies that indicated some college is required to be considered for employment as a sworn officer.
Making a hire is often tricky, especially for smaller agencies that must constantly compete with larger agencies interested in hiring an already-certified officer.
Ninety-six percent of responding agencies require background checks on lateral-entry personnel. A lateral employee is defined as a POPS-certified graduate of a basic training academy seeking employment by another in-state agency.
According to the survey, of those agencies that responded, there were 260 lateral hires reported for 2017.
For Scottsville’s Pearson, having an officer sign a contract is a great way to get a solid return from his agency’s investment.
“We do require a contract covered under KRS Chapter 70, KRS 15.410 to 15.510, which requires them to be under contract for three years from graduation of DOCJT basic academy,” Pearson said. “Our city invests approximately $50,000 to get a basic recruit through the academy. With us being a small city (estimated population of 4,416 in 2016) with a limited tax base, we know we can’t compete with larger cities with a much-larger tax base when it comes to salary. Sometimes we feel we are a stepping stone more or less. Without that contract, we would constantly be losing money on training officers. With the contact, it’s more of a break-even deal for our city.”
Nearly 70 percent of responding agencies indicated that an officer is sworn in upon initial employment, the survey revealed. Another 13 percent of responding agencies reported new hires are sworn in just before the academy, while 16 percent wait until after the officer has graduated from basic training.
When a new officer is hired, there tends to be a waiting period between hiring and the person reporting to DOCJT’s basic training. In the interim, many agencies make use of new hires in a variety of ways.
Springfield’s Smith said while waiting for their academy class, new hires, “ride along and provide emergency-backup duty only.”
“They learn during this period,” he said.
“We will have them do ride alongs for a while,” Sheriff McGehee said. “Then we may put them in a cruiser and respond with deputies during a call, but they’re never the primary responding deputy. They also serve papers for us. When they’re out serving papers and a deputy gets a call, they’re welcome to respond with the other officers.”
Once an officer is hired and they have a few years of experience under their belt, the urge to move up in the ranks takes hold.
Fifty-three percent of responding agencies require a minimum number agency service years before an officer becomes eligible for the first promotion. Survey results show it takes roughly 3.4 years of service to an agency before an officer is considered for promotion.
The promotion process differs, depending on the agency. Many agencies, such as the Shelbyville Police Department have multiple facets to the process, Police Chief Istvan Kovacs said.
“We have a written exam and oral interview,” Kovacs said.
In Daviess County, Smith said deputies within the sheriff’s office are being evaluated for possible promotion from the moment they are hired.
“We consider that an employee interviews for promotion every day they come to work,” Smith said.
In Paducah, an officer needs to have a minimum of five years with the police department or three years lateral experience and two years with PPD to be promotion eligible, Barnhill said.
Paducah’s promotion process includes a written exam, interview, practical exercise, a review of the most recent (job performance) evaluation and an interview with the police chief.
RESPONDING AGENCIES THAT HAVE MINIMAL REQUIREMENTS TO PROMOTE TO THE RANK OF SERGEANT
Aside from written exams and interview boards, some 45 percent of responding agencies mandate promotion applicants must graduate from DOCJT’s Academy of Police Supervision (APS) or equivalent. Twenty percent of responding agencies require DOCJT’s Criminal Justice Executive Development Course (CJED) or equivalent for supervisors (lieutenants and above).
The reason is simple, Barnhill said.
“Leaders are readers,” he said. “We believe our supervisors should always be learning in some form. Also, the networking and relationship building with other agencies across the commonwealth is beneficial. Aside from hiring, promoting the right people is one of the most important components of a good agency.”
Daviess County’s Smith agreed.
“Our first promotions are corporals, and as soon as they’re promoted, they’re enrolled in APS. Those command courses give a great understanding for an officer who is just entering the ranks of supervision,” he said. “They learn the challenges they will see with different personnel, how they handle different personalities and working behaviors the way it needs to be done.”
A legend in the automotive industry, Lee Iacocca once said, “Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you do all of those things effectively, you can’t miss.”
Without question, to have a top-notch agency, it starts with personnel.
Nicholasville Police Chief Todd Justice said the information in the survey regarding personnel and its many facets is invaluable to him as an executive.
One of his top goals as chief is to take care of officers under his charge. To that end, he said the survey will not sit on a bookcase collecting dust.
“We are in the process of trying to re-evaluate salary and benefits now,” Justice said. “We will use this information, and information from the Kentucky League of Cities, to show the (Nicholasville City Commission) the figures we have are off, and we need to adjust them to be able to attract and retain people.”
There’s a Policy for That
Policies and procedures are vital for every law enforcement agency, as shown in the 2018 Comprehensive Survey. More than 90 percent of responding agencies reported having written policies regarding arrest; domestic violence; evidence collection and storage; racial profiling; response to resistance (including deadly force); training; vehicle emergency response; vehicle offender pursuit and vehicle stops.
In 2018, the survey revealed that 47 percent of agencies have a body-worn camera policy, an 81 percent increase from the 2015 survey. Forty percent of responding agencies have a Naloxone policy.
According to the survey, the top three policy areas adopted are:
Sexual harassment/discrimination – 97 percent
Domestic violence – 96 percent
Response to resistance (including deadly force) – 94 percent
According to the survey, the bottom three policy areas adopted are:
Digital file storage – 50 percent
Body-worn camera – 47 percent
Naloxone – 40 percent