Cops are short changed by Council

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 1, 2003

OK, you hear a strange noise just outside your house about two in the morning, peek out and see this man breaking into your garage. Very quietly you call 911, you have already paid for this privilege via your phone bill, and the officer states that a policeman will be on his way as soon as she can find one. &uot;OK,&uot; you say, &uot;I’m in no hurry but I think he’s stealing my car. I’d run out and holler at him but I think he may carry a gun.&uot; This scenario may become commonplace unless a way is found to add cops to the city employee mix. If the city can afford two people employed to handle public relations we surely can add at least 6 more to public safety for the same amount of money.

We all know our cops are underpaid, way underpaid. They start out at less than $24,000 but are expected to face dangerous music from the beginning. Believe me, they don’t get the best shifts. Our chief is working with one hand tied behind his back. If it takes four sitting at terminals just to handle the incoming calls from frightened citizens, how many does it take to deal with the varied complaints that come in around the clock? Cindy Rohlf, one of two assistants to City Manager Herbert, said that public safety is a top priority for this city. She should add, &uot;Even though this has been a problem for many years we still find better places, we think, to spend tax dollars.&uot; Let me count the ways.

Let’s assume that chief Freeman knows full well where the cops are most needed during any 24 hour shift and places his officers well. That’s tough when you are 16 short, the same problem hospitals have with a nurse shortage; sooner or later someone dies. He is attempting to cover 430 square miles with 137 trained officers. Further assuming three shifts that averages 46 cops, each watching over nine square miles. It can’t be done so we are spending our tax dollars for overtime pay, not the most efficient way of using them. And pay is so low many officers also take side jobs, like guarding supermarkets. Let’s see, how much does Cindy Rolf get each month and how dangerous is her work? Not a fair comparison, you say? Perhaps not; but is a cop, doing dangerous work every day, worth only a quarter of her’s? She says public safety is a top city priority.

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I don’t know the starting pay for a teacher in public schools but the average is $40,197. A Master Police Officer, one who can do both street duty and some administration, can earn only about $33,000. And I’ll bet Steve Herbert can’t handle street duty. There is only one solution and that is to realign the city employee pay scales or rearrange the city spending. This is approaching emergency conditions and should be dealt with as one. The situation has been ignored years too long. City council members are responsible for the safety of their constituents and they are the ones who should spend city tax dollars wisely. Council does not have to await commands from higher up. Those seven people are at the very top of the Suffolk food chain. I’d like to hear any one of them state, without stuttering, the reason our police force is left to fight the security battles short handed.

When a young person has the desire to become one of Suffolk’s finest he/she must pass rigorous tests, and that’s how it should be. The training takes time and the freshman earn about $25,000 during this period. He qualifies, goes to work, figures it all out and knows what the job requires. So why wouldn’t that now trained officer pick up and go to a nearby city where the pay is much higher? It happens all the time and Chief Freeman’s limited budget is strained. He is out the cop and the costs of training, and out the costs of those who train. If he were given the 16 cops he is short, and they were paid what a good cop in a smart city earns, he might be able to take a day off now and then. He has taken on a job a former chief couldn’t handle yet is forced to play poker with only four cards. We should be proud of what he and his officers, under duress, have accomplished.

Robert Pockington is a Suffolk resident and a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at