Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – 08/22/2016 Page : A06

Where are the alarm bells?

By: City of Fairbanks Chief of Police-Randall Aragon

Retired Police Chief Dan Hoffman’s June 28 article caught my attention.

After assuming command of the Fairbanks Police Department,
I met with him. We discussed issues during his tenure from 1989. He mentioned lack of staff, inadequate salaries and bene- fits and continuous attempts at adequate funding from the City Council. Retired Chief Laren Zager expressed similar concerns to me. As chief of police since November 2014, I agree with both former chiefs on the need for our City Council to provide a wage and benefit package that is competitive compared to other departments in Alaska. I also need more staff.

With officers who have left, I am limited in discussing personnel issues. However, the reasons some left include other jobs closer to home, a perceived comparable or better wage and benefit package, less call volume and mandatory overtime (related to FPD staff shortages) leading to a better work-life balance, and lower employee health care cost contributions. At FPD, officers pay up to $907 monthly toward health care. One officer went to Juneau, where the employee pays $105 per month. The difference is about $10,000 more per year in income to the officer. Anchor- age starts its recruits about $15,000 per year higher than FPD, and officers pay nothing for health care. Some FPD officers drew their pension and then took other part-time or full-time work to supplement their pension.

A huge issue at FPD is the lack of a current contract or Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the city and union. The City Council must approve any CBA. It did so in August 2014 but later reversed that approval. FPD officers have not had a salary increase (not even a cost of liv- ing increase) since 2012. Mean- while, health care costs have climbed fast. As a result, some officers take home less money now than in the past. Officers
are also unhappy that the City Council has sometimes refused to fund arbitrator awards. If the parties cannot reach agreement on a new CBA, then an arbitrator is supposed to decide the terms of a new CBA.

The city human resources (HR) director recently stated that HR attempts to contact every depart- ing employee for a detailed exit interview. Some employees decline to participate. About
65 percent of departing employees provide exit interviews. The HR director reported that more than 84 percent of departing employees disagreed or strong- ly disagreed that their pay was reasonable in comparison with people in similar jobs elsewhere; more than 92 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed that city health insurance benefits are fair and competitive.

A competitive wage and benefit package is needed to attract and retain qualified officers. Approximately 80 percent of American police departments are having trouble filling vacancies. Mayor John Eberhart and HR are ana- lyzing wages and benefits and comparing them to other departments in Alaska. The mayor and HR are working hard to fill cur- rent vacancies, including outside recruiting trips, with a particular focus on lateral hires, since they would not have to go to the Police Academy, thereby saving months in training time and cost. Even after we fill current vacancies, I need additional officers. A staff- ing study we presented last year showed that we need six more patrol officers. There is a huge surge of additional people into the city each day for work and other activities. Mayor Eberhart supports increasing the number of officers. However, the City Council must appropriate the money.

FPD is working hard to protect and serve our Golden Heart City. My officers do a great job under the circumstances. However, to attract and retain good officers, we need a competitive wage and benefit package. Reaching agreement on a new CBA (or funding the previously approved CBA) is important to employee morale. Even when the current vacancies are filled, I need more officers.
Fairbanks Police Chief Randall Aragon took over as head of the city police department in November 2014.