Sandy City investing $1 million in raises for police officers

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn, right, and interim Sandy Police Chief Bill O'Neal hand out doughnuts to commuters on Friday, June 1, 2018, at the Sandy Civic Center TRAX Station.

Sandy City leaders hope that higher, more competitive pay will slow the rate of turnover in the city’s police force, which currently sheds one-fourth of its personnel each year.

City council members on Tuesday approved a plan to pump roughly $1 million into the annual budget for police salaries, lifting entry-level pay by 10 percent and shortening the time it takes an officer to “top out,” or reach a maximum pay rate.

“We’ve neglected this, frankly, for a good number of years,” Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn said Wednesday. “I heard from the unions and officers that they had just been ignored, completely, in the past.”

Under the changes, both first-year and “top out” pay will climb by $2 per hour, Bradburn said, to $21.58 and $34, respectively. Career police officers will also reach the city’s highest pay rate five years earlier than the current salary structure.

“It used to take 17 years to move through our pay scale,” Bradburn said.

Bill O’Neal, the city’s interim police chief, said turnover has led to systemic challenges for the department. Most officers have fewer than three years experience, he said, which can lead to slower reactions in high-stress scenarios.

“They’re very well-trained officers,” O’Neal said. “But they lack the institutional knowledge and experience.”

O’Neal said both recruitment and retention have become a challenge as the county police agencies compete for talent. The new salary plans, he said, will put Sandy in a more competitive position moving forward.

“It will put us up there with the top agencies in the [Salt Lake] Valley,” he said. “It was a great, collaborative effort.”

Bradburn said a similar investment is needed for the city’s fire department employees. With negotiations completed on the police department raises, he said, the conversation will turn to fire department raises next year.

“I wish I could do it all in one year,” Bradburn said. “But we just don’t have that much revenue.”

Sandy City’s former police chief, Kevin Thacker, was fired in April amid allegations of inappropriate touching.

Bradburn, who was elected last fall, has initiated a series of spending cuts within his administration. Those cuts were briefly coupled with a $15,000 raise the mayor awarded to himself, but Bradburn subsequently cut his own pay by $43,000 in response to community feedback.