The Emporia City Council voted 4-1 to give a $4,000 retention bonus to the Emporia Police Department officers.
The Virginia General Assembly approved $5,000 retention bonuses for the Virginia State Police and a $3,000 retention bonus for Sheriff’s Office deputies. The Emporia Sheriff’s Office deputies will receive the $3,000 bonus. EPD Chief Rick Pinksaw included them in his $4,000 request.
Pinksaw said surrounding police departments are increasing salaries for their officers. Police departments across the country are having difficulty retaining police officers and are poaching other departments to man unfilled positions. Nearly all of his officers have been recruited by other law enforcement agencies.
“In the summer of 2020, we saw the murder of George Floyd, and we saw a lot of police reform that came behind that,” Pinksaw said. “Officers were leaving positions, retiring, and getting out of law enforcement together. What we found out is nobody wants to get in this profession anymore.”
Councilman Jim Saunders said the Council needs to look into giving bonuses to the EPD dispatchers. Pinksaw said they do not fall under the American Rescue Funding Plan but agreed they needed pay increases.
Councilmember Yolanda Hines said she is not a fan of giving bonuses. She said bonuses are a Band-Aid for a situation, and a salary increase would be the sensible approach to the problem.
Councilman Woody Harris was the lone member of the local governing body to vote against the retention bonus. The EPD recently received bonuses, as did other city employees. Harris asked City Manager William Johnson to look into a salary-increase study for the EPD.
Harris said he appreciates what law enforcement does in the community. He said it was a job he and many others could not perform. However, Harris believes many issues impact the subject of retention other than money. He cited morale as a top concern.
“One of the biggest threats to that, in my opinion, is the continuing effort of this General Assembly to do away with qualified immunity for police officers,” Harris said. “I’m convinced if that happens that localities will have to step up and buy insurance coverage of some fashion to provide that guarantee, so there is a basic understanding that officers that are doing their jobs are not going to be putting their livelihoods, their houses, and their savings at risk.”
Pinksaw said research shows qualified immunity does not come up as a top cause for concern for police officers. Salary, compensation, a lack of respect from communities and other officials are the causes the police chief cited.
During public comment, EPD Detective Robert Williams thanked the members of the City Council that voted for the $4,000 retention bonus.
“I want to thank those of you that voted to give us this bonus. It goes a long way that people don’t understand,” he said. “The reason I came to Emporia is because what I was experiencing in Richmond made me question my thoughts on being a police officer. I came here to Emporia because my fiancé is here as well as the children I have taken on.”
Williams worked in the Hopewell and Richmond police departments. Both have asked the 16-year law enforcement veteran to come back.
The City will look into the salary increase discussion that hit the floor. For now, the $4,000 retention bonus through the American Rescue Funding Plan is approved.