UPD working to retain officers in spite of budget

Posted on Oct 24 2013 - 7:45am by Phillip Waller

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Even as the budgets for university departments continue to tighten, recruiting and retaining quality officers remains a top priority for the University Police Department.

“Everybody on campus is understaffed and overworked,” said University Chief of Police Calvin Sellers. “I’m proud of what we do, but I think we can do better.”

With just nine resignations over the past five years, the University Police Department is on track to maintain a voluntary separation rate of just under 5.5 percent, which is nearly 2 percent lower than the 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics annual rate for government employees.

Making sure officers stay with the department is important to the department’s bottom line. New hires must go to a 12 week police academy that costs the department upwards of $3,600. During those 12 weeks, the department pays the officer his full salary, Sellers said.

“While they’re there, we get no benefit,” Sellers said.

After the police academy, officers have to enroll in UPD’s field training officer program for four to six months where they complete their education under the direction of experienced officers, Sellers said.

“You’re looking at a year before we ever get full use out of an officer,” Sellers said. “If they stay less than a year, then we don’t really see any return on that.”

Sellers said it is his job to make sure officers get the full satisfaction of being an officer so that they stick with the force, though he recognizes that police work is not for everyone.

“Policing is different on a college campus.” Sellers said. “We all have different responsibilities that we go about differently.”

One of the benefits that Sellers pointed to is that all university police officers get the same perks as any other university employee. Officers are allowed to take up to six credit hours of classes a semester with three hours they can take during their regularly scheduled shifts. Officers also receive the same half-tuition rate for their children that other University of Mississippi employees receive.

“Because of that, I think we have a higher number of people who have a college degree,” Sellers said. “There are several here who have, or are working on, their master’s degree.”

Officer Andrew Jenkins of UPD said that the town and Ole Miss are what drew him to UPD.

“I fell in love with Ole Miss when I came here,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins also said that he is looking forward to the training opportunities at UPD.

“Personally, I want to train as much as I can,” Jenkins said. “I want to grow.”

Even with all the benefits of working with UPD, Sellers said that everything in his department is not all “peaches and cream,” though he said it is unrealistic to expect anything different from any other location.

Officer Daniel Ross, a 16-year veteran of the force who transferred to UPD two years ago, said he sees some of the problems officers have with the department.

“Other departments maybe survive on tickets, and maybe we survive more on public relations,” Ross said. “They want us to get out and get to know the students, because they already don’t like us enough.”

Ross said that some officers just do not adjust well to this mentality.

“You do have to adapt here,” Ross said.

Jenkins said the difference is in how officers approach dealing with students. He said officers have to try to balance keeping order without being overbearing or destructive to students’ lives.

“I think the student body may not like us because we have to play that police role, but what they don’t realize is that for every arrest that we make, we are really lenient on a lot of other things,” Jenkins said.

Ross said this approach sometimes causes problems.

“If (students) get the idea that you can get away with that at UPD, then you lose the respect of them,” Ross said. “You can lose control.”

Ross said that some officers just cannot accept the policies.

“We’ve lost a few officers to not being able to do actual police work, and them not being able to adapt to what was expected of them,” Ross said.

When asked what caused most of the officers he knew to leave, Ross had a simpler answer though.

“Money,” Ross said. “There are guys who are gung-ho fired-up for their job, but then again, they still have to feed their families and get paid enough to want to come to work.”

Jenkins also recognized the challenges with pay.

“Right now I am single, so I can get by,” Jenkins said. “But I know that for other officers there can be financial stress involved.”

Sellers said he recognizes that officers want to get paid more, but that more money is not necessarily the best solution.

“Money is a short term motivator. I can give you a huge raise now, but in three or four months you are going to want more,” Sellers said.

Sellers said that he would like to see more officers to match the growth of the university. More officers on the streets means the department can reduce officer workload while handling more volume and putting time into programs to engage students.

“We only have one more officer than we did 4 years ago. We should be growing along with (enrollment),” Sellers said.

Communication is a huge part of improvement too, Sellers said. He works to try to understand officers so that he can work to represent their needs.

“I have to try to figure out what motivates them, and I try to see if I can satisfy that motivation, but sometimes I just can’t,” Sellers said.

Sellers said the issue stems from some officers not approaching him with their problems.

“I don’t feel like I am an intimidating person, but I guess that I am to some of them. It’s like pulling teeth to get information out of them,” Sellers said.

Ross and Jenkins said they had two suggestions for improving retention.

“Cost-of-living raises would be nice,” Jenkins said.

“I’d say not having to pay to park,” Ross said.

Overall though, both officers are glad to be on the force.

“It’s not for every officer, but for me it is enjoyable,” Jenkins said.