DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s been eight years since the City of Durham last raised the starting salary for first responders and now Durham fire fighters and police officers may soon be getting raises.
The starting salary for Durham police officers and firefighters is $33,000 and it’s one of the lowest starting salaries when compared to other agencies in the area.
Over the past few months, Durham City Council members have heard several options for increasing the pay for first responders.
On Thursday, the City Manager’s Office recommended Option No. 1, which includes increasing the starting salary for police officers from $33,000 to $37,029 and raising the starting salary for fire fighters from $33,000 to $34,388.
Law enforcement groups, such as the North Carolina Benevolence Association, say the lack of competitive pay in Durham has many officers leaving the department to go to other agencies.
Officers have taken jobs at local agencies such as Holly Springs Police Department ($41,689/starting salary), Cary Police Department ($40,456/starting salary) and Wake Forest Police Department ($38,309/starting salary), according to law enforcement groups.
“Veteran officers especially are looking at a situation where they can have half the workload and a 20-30 percent increase in salary,” said NCPBA Executive Director John Midgette.
Durham Police Chief Cerelyn J. Davis says the turnover has left a pretty big hole in the department. She says filling the 64 current vacancies would have a positive impact on their crime prevention efforts.
“If you don’t have the staff and the only thing the officers can do is answer calls for service we can’t deploy officers in areas where we see upticks in crime,” said Davis.
Assistant District Attorney Stormy Ellis, who also is a former police officer, says when officers leave, it can make it tougher to prosecute the case that officer was working.
“They’re taking their experience and they’re taking everything with them, including their knowledge of their prior cases and that impacts all of us,” said Ellis.
The recommendation also includes a 5 percent pay increase every year for first responders who meet their department’s expectations. City Council is expected to vote on the proposal at their next City Council meeting, which is scheduled for February 6.