Phoenix Assistant City Manager Jeffrey Barton

Phoenix Assistant City Manager Jeffrey Barton told city council in a memo last week that the city has launched a bonus program to help fill empty officer and civilian positions in the police department.

Phoenix officials began offering handsome bonuses to recruits and even other city employees who make referrals in a desperate effort to fill a growing number of police department vacancies.

Police newbies or officers recruited from other municipalities will get a signing bonus of up to $7,500 while other employees in other city departments who refer a recruit or a transfer from another police department can collect up to $2,500, according to a memo Assistant City Manager Jeffrey Barton sent last week to City Council.

“The Employment Services Bureau is committed to aggressively marketing and recruiting new police hires as well as lateral police officers,” Barton wrote of a team that includes three officers and a sergeant.

He said that for the last 14 months, the team has marketed the Police Department through 131 live events, 75 cross-country online ads and another 77 virtual events across the country, TV advertising, fliers at colleges and universities and banners and billboards.

“In the last 11 months, the Employment Services Bureau has heavily invested in social media resulting in an increased amount of traffic to the city’s websites,” he wrote, ticking off 91,762 new users and 131,227 page views at the recruiting website, JoinPHXPD.com; nearly 1.9 million views of one of nine Facebook ads; and 84,100 clicks on the website link from those Facebook ads.

Yet, for all that effort, the Phoenix Police Department is confronting what Barton calls “increased challenges in recent years related to the hiring and retention of both sworn and civilian police positions.”

Currently, the department has 224 empty sworn positions and 212 vacant civilian jobs — the latter including 75 new jobs created in the city’s 2021-22 budget to handle a variety of duties such as handling records requests, answering 911 calls and other functions.

As of last month, Barton said, the department has 2,901 officers even though Council has authorized 3,125.

Barton said the city’s problem is not unique, noting “police departments across the country including Phoenix have seen significant reductions in police recruit applications and new hires.

He noted that in the last three fiscal years, Phoenix has hired 635 recruits and 32 lateral transfers.

But Barton also indicated the city is looking down the road with some urgency because total attrition “has continued to climb during the last three fiscal years” and that “more officers are leaving the department for reasons other than finishing their Deferred Retirement Option Plan.”

The so-called DROP plan offers a way for an employee who would otherwise be eligible to retire to keep working but start earning some retirement benefits, while the city gets to retain the employee’s services without further increasing that employee’s pension payout.

According to Barton’s memo, of 573 officers who have left the department, 307 were due to DROP.

Projected retirements through DROP for the next five years total 447, he said. 

In all, 30% of the sworn personnel – 810 officers – are eligible for retirement after putting in their 20 years.

Barton’s memo also states that “a concentrated focus has been placed on filling critical needs of the department in relation to civilian positions.”

During the city’s formulation of its current budget last spring, City Manager Ed Zeurcher noted that the police department has lost 375 civilian positions since the Great Recession.

Of the new positions council created, 34 of the 75 new civilians are to help the department comply with data reporting to the National Incident-Based Reporting System, 22 would be used for the continuing civilianization of central booking; 15 to improve turnaround time for public records requests and four to manage the early identification and intervention “to proactively identify trends and intervene prior to an employee’s adverse actions.” 

That last area mainly involves police officers who act in a troubling manner.

Noting “many agencies around the country are experiencing the same challenges,” Barton did not indicate what other plans are being made to address the shortage of officers.

Nor does he state how the empty positions currently are impacting the department.

“We are committed to continuing to expand efforts to recruit, hire and retain employees,” he said.