City willing to pay for experienced police

New Miles City police officers with experience will now get a higher rate of base pay, helping the city to secure experienced officers.

The resolution to change the base pay was unanimously approved by the Miles City Council on Tuesday. The corresponding contract amendment must now be approved by the police union — AFSCME Local No. 283-B. 

Previously experienced new officers at Miles City Police Department would start at “a probationary pay,” but that can now be skipped and they can be started at “a confirmed rate of pay,” Police Chief Doug Colombik said in an interview on Wednesday morning.

For example, an officer with four years of experience can start at a base pay of $21.43 an hour, instead of the probationary rate of $19.41. 

Colombik notes that, with the shift differential, weekend pay, overtime and other factors, the actual pay is even higher.

Eligible officers must have completed the law enforcement academy and it must be certified that they have a certain number of hours of experience. 

Colombik said hiring a new officer who has no training or experience costs the city “a lot” because the city must pay for his or her education, salary, travel and weekend meals during training, as well as paying officers at home to cover their shifts.

A new officer without experience works for six months, then attends the academy, then returns to work, where he or she requires more of the senior officers’ time over the first two years with questions and needing extra help. 

Officers with experience require minimal training, he said.

Colombik estimates the cost of a new, inexperienced officer at $120,000 for those first two years. 

In the past the city has hired a number of new officers who, once they get their training and a couple years of experience, took a job in western Montana or at another agency. 

“People are taking advantage of the city and me,” he said, adding that the fire department is experiencing the same problem.

“You are working with a different generation of workers,” he added. He said he is “very, very cautious” about who he hires, making sure they have some investment in Miles City and eastern Montana.

Colombik said on Wednesday that there are a number of experienced officers who have expressed an interest in working in Miles City and the base pay changes will help bring those officers to town.

He told the council that the Montana League of Cities and Towns is working on a bill for the 2017 Legislature where cities could recoup reimbursement of training costs if a law enforcement officer does not meet a minimum three-year service agreement.

He said the department is currently fully-staffed.