City of Lawrence proposes overhaul of police pay structure

photo by: Journal-World Illustration

Lawrence Police Department logo, Lawrence City Hall

Representatives of the local police officers union are pushing back against the city’s proposal for officer and detective pay, which would overhaul the department’s pay structure and would only allow officers who reach a newly created rank to access the highest rates.

The city presented its compensation proposal at a contract negotiations meeting Tuesday afternoon between city officials and Lawrence Police Officers Association representatives.

Under the current structure, pay for police officers and detectives is organized into a series of “steps.” Employees can move up a step based on merit and years of service, and each step brings with it a 2.5 percent pay increase. The union doesn’t want to change anything about the current structure — it’s simply calling for a flat 5.5 percent pay increase at all levels.

The city’s proposal, however, would markedly change the current structure.

To inform its proposal, the city commissioned a salary study of area police departments and used it to determine the market rate for officers’ and detectives’ compensation. The pay levels in the proposal are calculated based on those market rates.

That means the steps would no longer be a regular 2.5 percent increase — some steps would increase an employee’s pay by as much as 3 percent, while others would only increase it by 1.5 percent.

The city’s proposal also calls for the creation of a new rank called “master police officer,” and it requires officers to achieve that rank before they can gain access to the highest pay levels — between $62,300 and $77,400 a year. Under the current pay structure, however, officers can reach similar levels simply by accumulating years of service, even if their position doesn’t change. The highest pay level for an officer under the current structure is $77,150 a year.

As compared with the current pay grades, minimum pay for officers would remain the same and detective pay grades would see a jump, with the minimum pay for detectives increasing from $54,181 to $56,357 annually.

  Current pay City proposed
Officer minimum $44,813 $44,813
Officer maximum $77,150 $77,400 *
Detective minimum $54,181 $56,357
Detective maximum $80,433 $80,433
* Would require advancement to rank of Master Police Officer
(Full pay plan proposal: 2019-LPOA-Pay-Plan-Proposal-20180622.PDF)

LPOA Chairman Drew Fennelly was unhappy that the proposal would require a promotion for officers to reach the top of the pay scale. He also said that he did not understand why the city was proposing a new pay model only a few days before the end of the month, when the nonmediated period of the negotiations is scheduled to end.

“What is so wrong with our pay plan that has been in place for over 15 years that we have to re-create the wheel four days before impasse?” Fennelly said.

City Manager Tom Markus said that just because the police department has been using the same pay plan for years doesn’t mean there aren’t better ways of doing things. The city’s proposal states that the new rank of master police officer is in line with what is used in other communities, and Markus said he thinks that the new structure provides a more strategic approach to pay increases.

“I think providing the master police officer position provides for a significant opportunity for police officers to move up in their pay, and I think (it) ties pay to desirable characteristics,” Markus said.

Officers would be eligible to apply for the master police officer rank once they had reached five years of service, according to the proposal. The city’s proposal states that the number of additional master police officers would be established in the annual budget. The chief of police would be able to remove the designation if an officer did not maintain proficiency in the minimum qualifications or if performance concerns or disciplinary actions arose, according to the proposal. In those cases, the officer could reapply for the rank once two years had passed.

Fennelly said he thinks the city’s proposed pay plan would make hiring more difficult at a time when recruitment is already an issue, and would also result in officers within certain years of service leaving the department.

“In this pay plan, I think you’ll see a mass exodus of officers between two and eight years of service,” Fennelly said.

The city’s employment agreement with the LPOA covers wages, benefits and working conditions for officers and detectives and expires at the end of this year. The next meeting between the city and the LPOA will be from noon to 3 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.