Smaller Police Departments Facing Bigger Challenges

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The Eldridge, Iowa Police Department, and other agencies in small towns like it, is facing a growing challenge... and it has nothing to do with crime.

In the last 15 months, six police officers have left the Eldridge Police Department.

"That is 66% of the department that you've lost and had to replace," Chief David Kopatich said.

The challenge is what Chief Kopatich discussed with the Eldridge-North Scott Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, November 20th, 2014.

Carolyn Scheibe, Executive Director of the Chamber, said the group holds quarterly luncheons to learn more about timely topics and retaining their community's police officers is one of them.

"When there is a little more retention, you get to know them," she explained. "You'll see them in the stores, you'll be able to chat with them, you'll feel a little more comfortable, you may even feel more likely to call them if you need them so I think that retention is very important."

"It's just finding people who are dedicated to come in and stay with our department and those are the people we're looking for," said Chief Kopatich.

The constant turnover is a challenge for many small towns, especially when they are competing with bigger cities nearby that have bigger police departments and bigger budgets.

"After they work here and they get a taste of law enforcement and work a couple of years, they look around and see that maybe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and maybe they want to work in a bigger department that may have a lot more opportunities for them in the long run," said Chief Kopatich.

"The city of Eldridge obviously doesn't have the tax base to pay off officers a huge wage - although we do make a decent wage that is pretty comparable to some of the agencies - but there's still those other opportunities that people want to explore."

When the Eldridge Police Department loses people, it loses time and money, too. Every new officer the EPD hires has to go through police academy, which the EPD pays for. The three-month program is $7,500.

On top of that -

"We are paying their wage while they are there for those three months, which ends up being in the neighborhood of about $20,000-$25,000 while they’re in the academy and then when they come back we’re still training them for a 3-4 month period, so by the time that we ultimately go to hire an officer, send them to the academy, and get him working on a street on his own, we easily have $30,000-$40,000 invested in that person," said Chief Kopatich.

The EPD is expected to be full again by the start of 2015. Until that time, Chief Kopatich says the public has nothing to worry about.

"When people call for the police to show up in Eldridge, rest assured we’re going to show up."

He says the EPD also has a great working relationship with the Scott County Sheriff's Department and are able to call on them to help, if needed.