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The City Journals

Personnel retention top priority for fire, police departments

Jan 30, 2019 12:05PM ● By Travis Barton

Retaining personnel has become the main priority for both fire and police departments in West Valley City. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

Both public safety chiefs told the West Valley City Council on Jan. 8 that their top priority is recruiting and retaining personnel. 

“We’ve got dedicated people,” Fire Chief John Evans told the council during its work meeting. “My priority is to keep the dedicated people that we have.” 

The priorities came to light during the departments’ year-end presentations to the council. Every department presents an accounting on how the previous year went and shares what their primary focuses are going forward. All departments present prior to the council’s strategic planning meeting when council members direct city staff where to concentrate their efforts. 

Two of the final presentations came from the fire and police departments. Evans said he’s lost experienced firefighters to other agencies because they’re being offered better wages. He wants to become more competitive with other departments along the Wasatch Front. 

“I wish I could figure out a way to replace experience but I can’t,” Evans said. 

Police Chief Colleen Jacobs faces a similar problem. In 2018, the police department hired 41 new employees (seven civilian and 34 sworn officers), but lost 31. Reasons for leaving included retirement (seven), left for different police agency (13) and 11 for personal reasons. 

When Councilmember Don Christensen said he was worried about the turnover rate, Jacobs immediately responded, “So am I.” 

She said the department is young and inexperienced with almost 120 officers with less than five years of experience. Many of the departments officers have only held their current rank, whether sergeant or lieutenant, for less than five years as well. Forty-five percent of the patrol division have less than one year on the job.  

“To have police services fast and to have them good, we need experienced police officers,” Jacobs told the council, later saying they’re struggling to replace the experienced officers who leave. 

Those experienced officers typically have 5-10 years on the job. “They learn what they’re doing and then leave for someone else,” she said. 

It’s an issue confronting many cities, and city administration is looking at ways to retain officers with more than five years experience, said Paul Isaac, assistant city manager.