- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A D.C. Council committee is considering legislation that would require new police officers to serve three years on the job or pay back the costs of their training.

Council member Phil Mendelson, an at-large Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), said he wrote the legislation after hearing from police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.

“I introduced this legislation because the chief had talked about how there are some folks who take our resources and go through cadet training and then resign and go somewhere else,” Mr. Mendelson said.

He said he hoped the legislation would “strike the right balance that doesn’t discourage applicants, but at the same time does discourage folks from getting our training at our cost and going elsewhere.”

Eric Coard, the senior executive director of the police department’s Corporate Support Group, said it costs $44,000 to $50,000 to accept, process and train each recruit.

Assistant Chief Shannon Cockett said 41 of the 249 recruits in the 2002 class, or about 16.5 percent, have resigned. Twenty of the 186 recruits in the 2003 class, or about 10.8 percent, have resigned. Thirteen of the 327 recruits in the 2004 class, or about 4 percent, have resigned.

Chief Cockett said that in about half of those cases, the officers left to take other law-enforcement jobs.

“The numbers are not large, but it is still a concern,” she said.

In September 2004, the District announced that the police department had reached its authorized strength of 3,800 officers, after holding steady at 3,600 officers for several years. The starting salary of a police officer in the District is $44,611 a year. After 18 months of service, most officers get a raise to $48,809.

Police officials said that in the past three years, the District has shortened the amount of time it takes to process applications from as long as a year to about four months. If a person applies to several police departments, he or she may accept a job in the District while waiting for an offer from another department.

Mr. Coard suggested a few amendments to the legislation, including applying it solely to persons who leave the force to become officers elsewhere. He said that there are legitimate personal or family reasons justifying someone’s leaving the department and that it is not uncommon that a recruit completes training and realizes he or she is not suited to police work.

“The last thing MPD or the city wants is to have police officers in our community who have realized that they do not belong in law enforcement,” Mr. Coard said.

He also suggested capping the amount an officer would have to pay back at $5,000, because the legislation is aimed more at discouraging officers from leaving than it is recouping the cost of training.

“We didn’t want to make the number so high it would stop people from applying,” he said.

Mr. Mendelson questioned whether that amount was enough to serve as a disincentive. He plans to consider the department’s feedback before scheduling a vote on the legislation.

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