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Police shortage is a tall order in Sterling

April 6, 2019 GMT

STERLING — In addition to fighting crime, Sterling police face a continuing fight to find enough officers to keep the department running at maximum effectiveness.

The department is losing two recent hires, Chief Tim Morgan told the City Council this week.

Their reasons for leaving are understandable – one is moving to St. Charles to join her fiance and the other was hired in Byron, where he and his family live – but even with a new officer starting Monday, Sterling still is down five officers, leaving only 16 on staff.

There is some good news on the horizon:

“We’re looking to hire one more in the next couple of weeks who is already certified,” Morgan said. “That will leave us four spots in the (police) academy, which we hope to fill by May.”

The struggle to keep a full roster is a constant one, and his department uses all of the options at its disposal to try and attract new officers to Sterling, Morgan said.

One of the hardest obstacles to overcome, he said, is the starting salary: The entry level salary for a Sterling officer is $43,325.

It’s increasing to $44,192 on May 1, but the same job in nearby Sycamore and further into the suburbs pays twice that, Morgan told the council.

“For our area and our profession, our salaries are competitive,” the chief said. “But we’ve noticed with this generation of employees, they are the instant-gratification type. So they see higher pay and they aren’t afraid to move to where that is.”

The department must adjust to those recruits and their expectations, Morgan said, adding that city officials are aware of the situation and willing to make those adjustments.

They might come sooner than later: The police contract with the city ends in 2020.

Negotiations on a new deal likely will start in September or October and probably will include talks on how to make Sterling a more desirable as a place to be a police officer.

Morgan, a Sterling native who’s leading the recruitment effort, said the city has plenty to offer young people looking to start a career.

“I’m a huge Sterling fan. We have a great city, amazing amenities and an education system second to none,” Morgan said. “When I speak with applicants in orientation, I try to sell Sterling.

“Higher wages will help with that, but we can’t put the entire burden on taxpayers.”

It costs the city $30,000 to $40,000 to hire and train a new officer, and with that kind of investment, retention is key. (Fortunately, Byron is reimbursing the city for the officer it just hired.)

One tool Morgan and his administrative staff are using to try to grow officers locally is the Explorers Program, which gives people ages 14 to 21 a taste of police work as they train with on-duty officers.

“We have a new hire coming out of that program, and we give preference in hiring if they leave that program in good standing,” Morgan said.

“I would love to have a mechanism in place to hire locally, but we just don’t get the numbers, so we’ve really expanded our net to get applicants.”