BPD employees in line for retention bonuses as city council considers reality of nationwide competition for officers

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The Bakersfield City Council meets this evening at 5:15 p-m and it has a hefty agenda. Among the issues up for debate — retention bonuses of up to $20,000 for Bakersfield Police officers. The proposal is on the consent calendar and, KGET has learned, is likely to pass unanimously.

What has prompted the city to consider such a thing? To put it one way, a national police exodus crisis. One could certainly reach that conclusion, given the well-founded concern that’s evident in cities across the country — including Bakersfield — where retention bonuses are on the table.

Oklahoma City, Toledo, Burlington Vermont — those cities and many more have issued or are considering issuing so-called longevity bonuses to their police forces — many of which are seeing officers retire or move to higher-paying law enforcement agencies elsewhere in alarming numbers. The state of Georgia recently approved $1,000 across the board bonuses for local police departments in that state but officers in Atlanta say the state will have to do better.

The Bakersfield City Council — cognizant of this trend — has been weighing a proposal to issue $5,000 “recognition bonuses” to rank and file officers as part of a new contract with the local police union. Long-serving members would receive an additional $3,000 to $20,000 as part of a “longevity bonus.”

It’s part of the city’s efforts to aid its recruitment efforts and add 100 officers to the force within three years of the passage of Measure N — known as the Public Safety and Vital Services Measure approved by voters in 2018.

City Councilman Chris Parlier, a former police officer himself, proposed the retention bonuses.

“I want to make sure that we have the first string showing up at somebody’s house in the middle of the night,” he said prior to Wednesday’s meeting. “And what this does, it helps keep the best. Right now it’s just a very strange time for law enforcement and they have other options, whether it’s a law enforcement agency within the state and a lot of officers are looking to go out of the state because in some states they feel they have more support.

“So this is really helping to retain — especially those line sergeants, senior officers, lieutenants  that may even be close to retirement — they’re going to stick around a little longer. And they really help mentor those younger officers,” Parlier said.

The longevity bonuses will go to employees who have been with BPD from five to 25 years — $3,000 if the employee has been with the department for less than five years, up to $20,000 on a sliding scale for those who have served up to 25 years. The bonuses would be part of the contract that runs until 2025.

Right or wrong, the past two years have been difficult for many police officers. During the 12-month period ending in April, law enforcement retirements nationwide were up by 45 percent and resignations by 18 percent. Cities are doing what they can to stop the bleeding, and Bakersfield is joining them. 

The police bonuses, along with a 2.5 percent pay increase for city firefighters and just under $60,000 for expansion of the city’s new homeless shelter, the Brundage Lane Navigation Center, were all on Wednesday’s Bakersfield City Council agenda. 

This story will be updated.

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