County police rank last in salary survey Lowest starting pay among 18 agencies from Va. to New York

November 12, 1998|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

If you want to be a Baltimore County police officer, you'll have to start at the bottom.

County officers fresh out of the academy earn $26,656 -- less than any rookie state trooper between Virginia and New York. But they also make less money than their counterparts in Washington, D.C., Baltimore City, and Howard, Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Fairfax and Arlington counties.

In short, Baltimore County's newest earn less than everybody else listed in the Maryland State Police's 1998 salary survey. It ranks 18 state police agencies and metropolitan police departments likely to be hiring from the same pool of applicants.

Salary is an issue certain to be on the table when the county and the Fraternal Order of Police begin preliminary contract negotiations this month.

Police officers say the issue goes beyond money to attracting and keeping the best officers.

"If you apply to three agencies, and one calls you and then the second one calls and has better wages and benefits, what are you going to do?" says Lt. Tim Caslin, a 28-year veteran of the county Police Department who heads the FOP, the officers' bargaining agent. "You can't attract the very best when your starting pay is that low."

Caslin said the low starting salary pushes the most highly qualified applicants toward other agencies. "Every police force has vacancies. So if you want to join a police department, you're going to look for the best deal," he said.

Department officials, acknowledging that salary might be a factor, say the academy has not been filled in at least three years and the current class is less than two-thirds the desired size.

"Salaries are a big issue," said Col. M. Kim Ward, who heads the county police's personnel section. She said applicants also consider other factors, including the Police Department's retirement plan, which is highly competitive.

The pool of applicants has dwindled, said Chief Terrence B. Sheridan. "Are we the only jurisdiction having problems? No -- across the country, everybody is having difficulty recruiting. Money is part of it," he said.

The academy class that will graduate next month has 38 recruits, police officials said -- well short of the 64 slots the academy hoped to fill.

Attrition -- retirements, disabilities, officers who depart for other agencies -- costs the 1,700-member force about 2.5 people every month. About 70 vacancies exist in the department, Ward said.

Filling vacancies is not a speedy process. All recruits -- whether they come from other agencies or are new to policing -- spend six months in the academy and two months in field training before being assigned.

For its survey, the Maryland State Police chose the 18 jurisdictions based on the assumption that Maryland's job candidates also look at nearby states, said 1st Sgt. Laura Lu Herman.

"It's a regional employment market, so we took the bordering states because basically they are in competition with us for qualified applicants," she said. The survey looked at nearby state police agencies, then took the largest jurisdictions in Maryland to complete the list.

Sheridan questioned whether the survey accurately reflected police hiring in Central Maryland. "Candidly, we should not be compared to a New York agency," he said. "The cost of living varies a lot. We're talking about departments from areas a lot different -- Washington, D.C., New York."

Among local agencies, Howard and Anne Arundel recently received raises, which might have contributed to putting Baltimore County last. But since 1993, Baltimore County's starting salary for officers has not been higher than 13th on the list of 18 agencies.

Harford is the only county bordering Baltimore not on the survey; Harford officers newly out of the academy earn $968 a year less than their Baltimore County counterparts.

Sheridan said his agency is reviewing the recruiting process. "We now have two full-time recruiters -- their job is going out and selling the Police Department," he said.

The state police survey is being evaluated by the county's personnel department, said Robert J. Barrett, special assistant to the county executive.

"We've got to look at it," he said. "We recognize we have to compete with other jurisdictions to make sure our police department stays up to our standards."

Salary comparison for starting officers

Pennsylvania State Police, $37,013

Delaware State Police, 36,354

New York State Police, 35,341

New Jersey State Police, 34,714

Fairfax Co. Police, 33,285

Arlington Co. Police, 33,128

Maryland State Police, 31,910

Montgomery Co. Police, 31,265

Charles Co. Sheriff's Office, 30,785

Metropolitan Police, 30,740

Mass Transit Administration Police, 29,473

Prince George's Co. Police, 29,427

Howard Co. Police, 27,878

Anne Arundel Co. Police, 27,876

West Virginia State Police, 27,360

Baltimore City Police, 27,312

Virginia State Police, 27,204

Baltimore Co. Police, 26,656

Figures are for 1998

SOURCE: Maryland State Police

Pub Date: 11/12/98

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