Jamestown police pay ranks near the middleJamestown’s police officers don’t make as much as officers in Oil Patch cities, but their salaries rank well compared to police in other similar-sized communities.
By: By Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Jamestown’s police officers don’t make as much as officers in Oil Patch cities, but their salaries rank well compared to police in other similar-sized communities.
The Sun compiled the average salaries of the Jamestown Police Department and seven comparable departments in North Dakota. JPD salaries ranked fourth behind Dickinson, Williston and West Fargo. Departments in Devils Lake, Wahpeton, Valley City and Beulah had smaller average salaries.
The average salary of a police officer in Jamestown for 2013 not including overtime or pay differentials is $47,510. The median pay is $41,112 and the range is from $36,636 to $70,652.
The salaries for all departments in this story are for 2013 and do not include overtime or shift differentials. Some city auditors contacted for this story also included salaries of police department office staff members in addition to sworn officers.
“It’s actually pretty consistent,” Jamestown Police Chief Scott Edinger said of salaries here. “Nearly half the department has less than five years’ experience here.”
The Jamestown Police Department has 29 sworn officers. That’s the same number of officers since Edinger joined the force in 1994.
Edinger said there has been consistent turnover in Jamestown since he started. Since 1994, 68 officers have come and gone. Many leave for better wages and benefits.
“All the officers in this job know they can’t be in foot chases and wrestling matches with drunk people when they’re 60 years old,” Edinger said. “So they go for the wages increase for one, and the retirement for the other.”
But Edinger said he feels the current pay officers receive is fair, considering the work the department does.
The Oil Patch effect
It should be no surprise that police departments in the Oil Patch are paid higher salaries. Dickinson and Williston are constantly dealing with a burgeoning population, an increased cost of living and Oil Patch salaries.
The crime rate has remained the same, when population growth compared to crime for the two cities is factored.
With the cost of living associated with rent and basic commodities, like food, the numbers speak for themselves.
“Our starting pay as of the first of this year is $49,500 for an officer, which is quite a bit higher than the cities around us,” said Williston Police Department Capt. and Assistant Chief Tom Ladwig.
The latest population estimate from the University of North Dakota puts the Williston city population at 33,000, Ladwig said. He has no idea how many more people live in Williams County, but police officers, sheriff’s officers and the North Dakota Highway Patrol all work together, he said.
This is proof that more people generally equal more crime in a community, Ladwig said.
The numbers, like the population, constantly change for officers. Williston has 32 sworn officers. The Sun was given information earlier in the month when it had 28 sworn officers. The average pay was $56,305. Salaries went as high as $103,865.
“Our City Commission has been just wonderful as far as realizing the problems here with the increased costs with housing and living expenses and have consequently allowed us these raises, so basically we can afford to live here,” Ladwig said.
Ladwig said people’s perceptions of what’s happening in the Oil Patch can be skewed.
“We don’t have people raped in the Walmart parking lot. We’re not finding bodies in Dumpsters around town. Basically, our activities are the same they’ve always were …,” Ladwig said.
Dickinson is experiencing the same type of growth.
“We stayed ahead of the 8 ball pretty good,” said Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger. “We kind of predicted some of this was coming. The rate of the growth kind of caught us by surprise.”
Dickinson’s most recent population estimate was anywhere from 22,000 to 24,000, he said.
The Sun received salary information earlier this month for 32 sworn officers, but the department now has 38. Using that original information, the average salary is $57,388, with the starting wage around $45,656 and the highest wage at $82,201.
“We finished 2012 with just under 25,000 calls for service and we were up about 2,000 calls from 2011,” Dassinger said. “The crime rate is consistent with population growth.
“We’re not busting out of the seams, it’s just consistent with the community growing.”
Both Oil Patch police officials said a good percentage of their officers come to the Oil Patch from Minnesota. Both departments are also looking at adding personnel in the near future. Both cities also plan to annex nearby land to expand city limits.
Housing is also an issue to attract and retain officers and the Dickinson Police Department was awarded a federal grant to construct four housing units for sworn officers in the same apartment complex.
While Dassinger and Ladwig both admit there is crime and there are bar fights, both said it’s not what people think it is.
“It’s not like it’s one wild roadhouse every weekend in our bars,” Dassinger said. “That’s not the case.”
Growth in the east
West Fargo ranks third in The Sun’s study of average police salaries. It also has the largest department with 47 officers.
The city is currently conducting a police pay study so figures The Sun received might not stay the same in the near future.
West Fargo Police Department officers made an average of $55,500 with a low salary of $29,583 and a top salary of $104,957.
“It’s (growth) been steady ever since I started here, but the last five years here it’s been ‘hold on to your pants, we’re going for a ride,’” said Lt. Duane Sall, a 20-year veteran of the West Fargo Police Department.
Sall supervises all patrol and investigation staff including patrol sergeants and the investigations sergeant.
In West Fargo officers have to deal with their own city limits, but also people from Fargo and Moorhead Minn., Sall said.
The department also deals with traffic from both interstates, as well as shoppers going to the big box retailers in West Fargo and the West Acres Mall. The department handles more people than just the population of West Fargo, but people from all over the region and beyond.
“We’re working harder and harder for our pay,” Sall said. “I can tell you that.”
In Sall’s 20 years at the West Fargo Police Department he has seen only six officers leave. Turnover isn’t a major issue.
The last U.S. Census in 2011 put West Fargo’s population at 26,291. But Sall said the number is constantly changing as expansion continues to the west.
“We’re in a spot where we’re constantly changing,” he said. “At the same time it keeps the job exciting and new. We always have exciting technology and equipment to make up for it.”
Smaller cities, less pay
With fewer residents than the top four cities, the four cities considered for this story with smaller police salaries have less crime.
Devils Lake comes in at sixth with 18 sworn officers and an average pay of $44,056. Edinger said the department handles a considerable amount of alcohol issues.
A Forum News Service story published in The Sun on Jan. 7 says the Devils Lake Police Department created a list of 21 “habitual drunkards,” who are denied alcohol sales.
Officers one hour south of Fargo don’t have as many alcohol issues to deal with but are paid slightly more.
Wahpeton’s police officer salaries are higher than Devils Lake with an average pay of $44,092.
“For this part of that state and our size, if you put us against people out west, we’re getting trumped,” said Sgt. Matthew Anderson, a nine-year veteran of the Wahpeton Police Department. “They’re starting out west a heck of a lot higher now than us here on the east side.”
The starting wage of the 16 officers on the force is $29,174 with a high wage of $69,793.
“We have sort of a unique dynamic here,” Anderson said. “Part of our department has 15-plus years on, and then there’s a large sum that have less than 10.”
Valley City ranks seventh with 14 officers and an average pay of $40,924. The smaller Beulah comes in eighth with four sworn officers and an average pay of $39,020.
“Every town has its issues that come up: The smaller the town, the less the frequency (of crimes),” Edinger said.
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org