Police officer shortage could lead to PTO changes in Alexandria

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A police officer shortage led Alexandria city officials to consider revisions to the city’s paid time off policy.

Police Chief Lucas Cooper was the first to raise the issue at a recent Personnel Committee meeting, and while much of the discussion focused on police officers, the changes considered in the meetings could affect all full-time city employees.

The Alexandria Police Department currently has 12 full-time officers on staff and has openings for two full-time officers.

“We’ve got enough job offers out to put us at full staff,” Cooper said at the meeting.

But the problem, he said, lies in the fact that one person will not go through the police academy until March 2023 and two others won’t be able to attend the academy until April 2023 at the earliest.

In addition, the department has offered a position to another candidate who’s currently serving in the Armed Forces but who isn’t available to start working until June of next year.

New police recruits are required to take a battery of tests and finish training at a police academy before beginning their work in earnest. This process can take up to a year, according to Cooper, which presents a problem for police departments trying to recruit quickly.

The chief also says he expects to lose another officer later this year before any of the new officers begin working.

In addition, Alexandria schools are currently short a school resource officer for the Alexandria Educational Center.

A recent Kentucky House bill, HB 63, requires that every educational campus in Kentucky employ a school resource officer to monitor schools for criminal activity.

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Unfortunately, the bill’s requirements are unfunded, meaning that expenses for hiring and maintaining the presence of an SRO fall to the local communities. Districts are required to inform the Kentucky State School Security Marshall if they lack the money or people necessary to meet the bill’s requirements. Alexandria PD is currently seeking grants to pay for a new SRO.

What’s more, both Cooper and other committee members speculated that potential public-sector candidates were being drawn away by the private sector due to the city’s comparatively ungenerous paid time off policy.

Currently, police officers and other city employees are not eligible for paid vacation time until they’ve worked for at least six months. Even then, they’re only eligible for a week of paid vacation.

Compared to other nearby police departments, those allotments are slim. For example, Campbell County PD officers are eligible for two and a half weeks of vacation after a year of employment.

In addition, paid time off is capped at four weeks after working for the city for 11 years, which conceivably could discourage long-term employment with the city.

Speaking with LINK nky after the city council meeting, Cooper said that the recruiting problem extends to public-sector work generally.

“They’re having a hard time finding teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, firefighters and EMTs,” Cooper said. “It’s across the board.”

Personnel Committee member and city councilman Kyle Sparks described Alexandria’s PTO policy as “absolutely archaic.” He added that, when it comes to police work, “You’re talking about a job where you go out, and you don’t know if you’re going to come home.”

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To that end, Sparks proposed giving new Alexandria police officers two weeks of vacation after a year of employment.

Cooper recommended adding an extra week of vacation time to employees who’ve worked at the city for more than 15 years. He also proposed allowing police officers who are transferring from other departments (and who have, thus, already completed training) the ability to negotiate time off upon hire in the hopes of attracting a wider pool of experienced candidates.

Personnel Committee Chair and City Councilman Steven Shinkle said he would like to see the PTO policy changed “before the first of the year.”

Although changing the PTO policy would not require a vote from the city council, mayor Andy Schabell recommended the matter be brought before city council for discussion to ensure a speedy resolution.

The next City Council meeting will take place on Dec. 1. The next Personnel Committee meeting will take place at a yet to be determined date in 2023.

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