D.C. police have begun expanding the agency’s civilian cadet corps and are rehiring some detectives and sergeants who recently left the agency to help staff the force amid a retirement bubble.
The rules passed last year by the D.C. Council enable police to grow their hiring pool among young D.C. residents, a long-term initiative, and bring back seasoned officers for up to five years, which the department describes as a “stopgap” measure.
The District’s acting police chief, Peter Newsham, and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) discussed the initiatives Tuesday morning at the training academy in Blue Plains in Southwest.
The new initiatives, Bowser said, “are already paying dividends” and are “helping us recruit the best and the brightest, right here in Washington, D.C.”
In an interview, Newsham said the department remains in the retirement bubble, in which attrition is outpacing hiring. It is blamed on a hiring binge 25 years ago that means a large portion of officers are now eligible to retire at the same time. The number of officers on the force fell from about 3,920 in 2015 to 3,785 at the end of 2016. Newsham said the force is now back up to more than 3,800 officers.
In fiscal 2015, 112 officers resigned and 244 retired; in fiscal 2016, 113 officers resigned and 230 retired. The department tries to hire 360 officers each year.
District leaders have attempted several incentive programs to encourage growth in the force. Last year, the city began allowing military members and officers from other jurisdictions to substitute two years of experience for 60 college credit hours, the minimum required to be a D.C. officer.
D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) proposed in January that the city spend $63.8 million on raises and retention bonuses for police officers, including doubling the salaries of officers who stay an additional five years after retirement eligibility.
The former mayor’s proposal did not go anywhere.
Newsham has begun rehiring sergeants and some detectives who have already retired. The council voted to allow a limited program that essentially sanctions double-dipping — the officers receive their pension and a lower salary for coming back. Their service is limited to five years, and the program ends after three years, though Newsham said he is seeking approval to extend that to five years, “until we get safely through the bubble.”
The police union objected to the provision, saying it would hurt morale by allowing retired officers to take slots away from officers on promotion lists. Sgt. Matthew Mahl, the chairman of the police union, said about 200 retired detectives and sergeants have taken advantage of the expanded rule.
“It slows up promotions,” Mahl said. “It stops vertical and horizontal movement in the department. I don’t think it’s going to be permanent, but I don’t think it’s doing anything to help the problems we have.” He said increasing salaries would be a better recruitment and retention tool.
Newsham said the union’s concerns are valid but called the hirings a “stopgap” provision. He noted the program’s three-year shelf life and limits on returning officers working no more than five years.
“The concern is that it could take a spot otherwise occupied by a younger member,” Newsham said. “But I also know we have to make sure we maintain our staffing at a level we feel comfortable with. Younger folks may have to wait a little bit longer for those positions to open, but we’re thinking collectively about this city.”
As for the cadet program, new hires can now be up to 24 years old; the previous age was 20. The minimum age, 17, remains the same. Already, Newsham said, six of the 35 recently hired cadets are taking advantage of the more liberal provisions. Cadets are paid about $30,000 and work in a wide variety of jobs throughout the department, and the agency pays their tuition at the University of the District of Columbia. The idea is for many of them to stay to become sworn officers.
Newsham said the current program costs about $1.7 million, and he wants to double its size next year. He said it is a way of attracting more District residents to the force “by increasing the pool of talent for D.C.”