- Associated Press - Sunday, February 16, 2014

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - Hattiesburg police administrators say their roster is about one-third down, but say they have plenty of people on street work.

The department is authorized for 140 officers, but has 100 - including four currently in the military and one recovering from injuries, The Hattiesburg News (https://hatne.ws/1g9A9Mb) reported.

“We have other divisions other than patrol that operate and cover the city,” said Assistant Chief Frank Misenhelter.

City Council President Kim Bradley says he’s worried, especially after reports that only four patrol cars were on the street one night last week.

Including units such as detectives, the DUI unit and the neighborhood enforcement team, there are 18 people on most night shifts, with 11 of them on patrol, Misenhelter said.

Twenty-three candidates in the current department training academy class are starting a 17-week course.

“It’s not like a large corporation, like a Walmart or Target, where there’s an application process, and in a week, you can hire somebody,” Sims said. “It’s not like that in law enforcement. It’s a process that has taken us six months to get to the point where we can actually start an academy.”

Two officers who have worked in law enforcement elsewhere are to be sworn in Tuesday. Misenhelter said three more lateral hires are entering the final phase of the vetting process, which includes an array of background checks, psychological tests and physical conditioning tests.

But hiring is a problem, Misenhelter said: “It’s difficult for us to find qualified officers to come to the Hattiesburg Police Department.”

A major reason is money, said Police Chief Frazier Bolton. “We’re the lowest pay in the Pine Belt.”

He said new officers get $30,000 a year, with an extra $3,000 for a master’s degree, $2,000 for a bachelor’s and $1,000 for an associate’s degree. Starting pay for a Lamar County patrol deputy is $35,592, with a Forrest County deputy at $34,785, Biloxi officer at $36,193 and Gulfport patrol officer recruit at $32,329, Bolton said.

At the same time, he said, three of those departments average of 1,200 to 3,000 calls a month compared to Hattiesburg’s 12,300. Biloxi’s is closest, at an average of 11,500 per month, Bolton said.

“You couple a higher workload with lower pay, and where would you want to go?” he said. “I’m not saying that’s the only reason, but it factors into this.”

Bolton said he asked in 2008 that department salaries at least keep pace with surrounding agencies.

“It hasn’t happened,” Bolton said. “Since I’ve been here, it’s been the same.”


Information from: The Hattiesburg American, https://www.hattiesburgamerican.com

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