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Columbia Police Officers’ Association links low officer morale to reduced benefits

The Columbia Police Officers’ Association said there are many factors leading up to a low morale problem at the Columbia Police Department Tuesday.

Monday, ABC 17 News reported CPD presented a report to Columbia City Council members on 21st Century Policing within the department. The 131 page report cited the 2015 City of Columbia Employee Engagement Survey, which found CPD had the lowest morale compared to all other departments.

Dale Roberts with the Columbia Police Officers’ Association said he thought morale was low compared to many other police departments in the country, not just compared to other Columbia city departments.

Roberts said he believed a lot of the problem was due to reduced benefits over the years.

“Officers feel like they’re not allowed to do their job within the department,” Roberts said. “And they’re not rewarded or encouraged in any way to do their job.”

First, the city council replaced the department’s original retirement plan with one requiring officers to work longer, Roberts said.

Second, the council took away officers’ equipment allowance, according to Roberts.

Third, it reduced uniform allowance.

And fourth, Roberts said the city took away the career development plan rewarding officers for time served.

“It’s our job politically to figure out what is the most important and then give policy guidance in that regard,” Third Ward City Councilman Karl Skala said after Monday night’s presentation.

Roberts said the low morale at CPD was reflected by the high turnover within the department.

“Within the past several months we’ve lost two officers, seasoned officers, one of whom had close to 10 years experience,” Roberts said.

Right now, Roberts said more than 60 officers had been with the department less than five years. That is about 40 percent of all sworn-in officers.

“The department has suffered a loss of a lot of officers. There was a time when officers reached their retirement date and then stay,” Roberts said. “That’s extremely rare now.”

The 2015 Citizen Handbook said Columbia residents surveyed the year before listed “preventing crime” as their number one priority. But the same report said only 10 percent of the 2015 city budget was spent on public safety.

“Certainly we’ve talked about the fact of bringing the proposition back to the public in terms of how we may finance more police officers than the three per year that we have already been doing,” Skala said Monday.

In order to improve morale, Roberts said he thought the city budget should reflect citizen priority.

“The city certainly doesn’t fund public safety as if it were a priority. The budget certainly does not reflect that,” Roberts said.

Monday night, Police Chief Ken Burton told ABC 17 he thought part of the reason officer morale was low was because of the hostile conditions officers are called to every day.

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