CHICOPEE — After approving a $1,350 raise for each police officer, City Councilors aired concerns that officers are underpaid and low salaries are making it difficult to recruit new employees.
The city recently entered into an agreement with the patrol officers union, Massachusetts Coalition of Police Local 485, that will give members a retroactive raise for July 1, 2020, through July 31, 2021. The money is added to officers’ base pay instead of being a one-time payment, Mayor John L. Vieau said.
“We think this is fair. Other unions received a 2% increase and we did not negotiate a contract with the (MassCOP) union,” Vieau said. The city continues to negotiate with the union to develop a longer-term contract, he said.
The agreement means officers do get a salary increase while negotiations continue, City Councilor James K. Tillotson said.
Under the pact, entry-level officers will receive a raise of about 3%. Those with more experience who earn more will see a lower percentage but the same amount of money, Councilor Robert Zygarowski said.
In a meeting earlier this month, the City Council unanimously approved transferring $142,624 from unspent funds in the police department’s salary account to pay for the raises. The raises will be granted as soon as the transfer is complete.
While the City Council had no problem granting the raise, members said police salaries, especially for first-year officers, must be carefully examined.
“I think our police officers are underpaid and I’m 100% behind this,” said Councilor Frank N. Laflamme, adding Chicopee has one of the lowest entry-level police officer salaries in the region and has a higher call volume than many departments where the pay is higher. The current entry-level salary for a police officer is about $40,000 a year, he said.
Police departments around Western Massachusetts have been having a difficult time recruiting officers, and Chicopee’s low salary is making it even more challenging, officials said. Also a problem is officers going through the police academy and training at Chicopee’s expense and then leaving for other departments with higher pay.
“We have to increase the starting salary for the guy at the bottom,” Councilor William Courchesne said. “We need it to be at least $50,000. We are a laughingstock.”
Councilor Joel McAuliffe called the one-year increase a first step. Along with completing negotiations for a longer contract, he said he would like the city to consider merit pay for officers who have worked daily and in person throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, risking their health. Springfield has already granted police and some of city employees similar bonuses.
“We still have a huge pay disparity in the police department. It is one of the main reasons that we are unable to retain people and get people,” McAuliffe said. “I don’t know who would take a bullet for $40,000.”