Birmingham police Chief Scott Thurmond on Monday announced a $5,000 hiring bonus for new and lateral entry police officers.
“As our nation, state and city work to combat the shortage of law enforcement officers, the city of Birmingham and the Birmingham Police Department will utilize this hiring bonus to attract new officers,’’ Thurmond said.
The department on Friday graduated four new officers and is currently hiring for its next academy which is set to begin in February.
The department is budgeted for about 720 officers. Thurmond and city officials have declined to release the number of officers currently on the payroll.
“Putting that number out would be detrimental to our day-to-day operations,’’ Thurmond said.
“Letting the bad guys and girls know how many, or the shortage that we may have, would …put our officers in danger and also put the public in danger so we don’t want to put that out.”
Officers in recent years have complained about staffing shortages, as well as pay and pension concerns.
In March, a “disproportionate number” of Birmingham police officers called in sick one day with over those concerns.
In October, Officer Lawrence Billups, Chairman of the FOP Board of Trustees said the department is woefully understaffed and still losing officers, and former Assistant Chief Allen Treadaway, also in October, said staffing levels at the Birmingham Police Department are probably the lowest they’ve been in decades.
“They’re in the range of 200 officers down than they had just a few years ago. The problem with that is every month, or every quarter, there’s more officers lost than they’re able to recruit and train and put on the street,’’ Treadaway said.
“They’re going to have to go out and recruit police officers who are already certified and use pay incentives to bring them in because if you just look at the last five years, we haven’t been able to hire and train officers to just replace the ones who are walking out the door or retiring through normal attrition,’’ Treadaway said.
Thurmond when he took office said recruiting and retention were among his priorities. The department has worked hard to revamp recruiting and retention and are coming with incentives that other agencies can’t offer.
“This is something that I’ve been working on with City Hall for several months,’’ he said.
Thurmond said there are several challenges in hiring new officers. One is the way the Jefferson County Personnel Board is set up with 34 different municipalities pulling from the same list of applicants.
“So, everyone is fighting for the workers if you will,’’ the chief said.
The other obstacle, he said, is the challenge of law enforcement across the nation.
“Law enforcement has had some bad instances over the last few years and there has been a lot of negativity toward the profession as a whole,’’ he said.
The department has also been looking out of state. Police officials have attended job fairs in Atlanta and have gone to military installations and college campuses as part of their recruiting efforts.
He said BPD offers some incentives that other agencies don’t, such as hiring at age 19 and offering a 20-year retirement. There’s also ample opportunity for advancement because of the size of the department.
“If you really want to protect and serve, work hard and make a difference, the Birmingham Police Department is the place to do it,’’ he said.
In November, the department enacted 12-hour shifts for patrol officers, which Thurmond said has put more officers on the streets. “The precincts are actually fully staffed at this point in time,’’ he said.
The department has implemented a new Employee Wellness program that the chief says will give employees the tools they need to be successful, not only at work but at home. Financial wellness, nutrition, and dealing with stress are all part of the new program.
Anyone interested in becoming a Birmingham police officer should contact the department’s recruiters at 205-254-1712.