Too few in blue Howard County: Neighboring jurisdictions lure police officers away with better benefits and pay.

June 29, 1998

TWO POLICE beats in Howard County were not patrolled for several hours one day last month because there were not enough officers available to work. Probably few people noticed the difference. There was no crime spree.

But the unusual situation was a prime example of one of the worst things that can happen if the police department doesn't solve its manpower shortage.

Sgt. Morris Carroll, a department spokesman, says the force is authorized to have 313 officers, but only has 303 on the payroll. And 18 of those are still undergoing training at the police academy.

That means the department has 28 fewer officers on the street than it needs to be at full strength. One reason is the force's growing inability to keep veterans from resigning to work for other departments that offer better pay and benefits.

The County Council in January approved a new pension schedule for Howard police officers that allows them to retire after 20 years. But their pension would only be 39 percent of their pay. Prince George's County officers can retire after 20 years with a pension equal to 60 percent of their pay.

Furthermore, several area police departments provide family medical insurance for retired officers. Howard County does not.

Exacerbating the problem is the new 12-hour work shift. To save money, County Executive Charles I. Ecker wants to calculate police leave and vacation time as if an officer's work day is eight hours, not 12. That has angered police union officials who are predicting an exodus of officers.

It once seemed enough simply to list the virtues of Howard County to recruit and retain police officers. That's no longer enough. There may be less crime in Howard County. But officers say their job is nonetheless demanding.

It takes more than a year to recruit and train a police officer. The current staffing shortage must be dealt with sooner than that. County officials should consider further improvements in pay and benefits to minimize the number of officers leaving the department.

Pub Date: 6/29/98

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