Tucson taxpayers are not getting full value from what they pay to train new police. The city is losing dozens of officers who are sometimes just a couple of years out of the academy.
Many officers are leaving for higher paying jobs in smaller cities. Marana, like many agencies is looking for what you call a lateral officer, that is a police officer with experience. And agencies are willing to pay a few thousand more just to get that experience.
"In the last year we tracked it. We lost 26 officers solely for the purpose of better pay to other agencies," said Officer William Bonanno, president of Tucson Police Officers Association.
Police say it costs about $100,000 to train a brand new officer. So that is a loss of $2.6 million in the last year for the city of Tucson. Officers are switching up the badge for more money.
"What we're starting to see is officers leaving for other local agencies. I've been on here for 15 years, historically we've never seen that," Bonanno said.
While starting salaries in Tucson are pretty competitive, that's where they stay. An officer who just got out the academy could pretty much be making the same amount as an officer who's been on the job for several years.
"Well, it's a valid concern when we've gone 4-5 years without a pay raise," said Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor.
To give you an idea, an officer who might be making a little over $45,000 in Tucson, could make more than $46,000 in Marana, Oro Valley and Apache Junction. And about $63,000 in a place like Paradise Valley.
For the chief it's frustrating. "The problem is I don't know where that money is going to come from. I definitely want to see all my employees get the highest wage they can get," Villasenor said.
For officers out in the field, it's meeting the bottom line and raising a family.
"We're seeing agencies hiring lateral officers, giving them a golden opportunity not to have to train a brand new officer," Bonanno said.
City council members we spoke to tell me they're all looking into the issue.
We will be looking at compensation for police and fire, last year 1% increase, we recognize that these officers are putting their lives on the line," said Karen Uhlich.
While Councilman Steve Kozachik released this statement today saying: "We're spending taxpayer money for training, and it's walking right out of our backdoor. We're are losing the investment. It's about time we invest in public safety."
The Tucson Police Officer's Association plans to meet with the city manager's office and discuss the issue. It's expected to be brought up in council meetings as they start putting together the annual budget.
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