DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Durham City Council approved a proposal Tuesday night to increase police and firefighter pay in an effort to fill a growing number of first responder vacancies in the city.
The plan will boost police recruit pay by 10 percent, which increases their pay from $38,511 to $42,593.
It also will increase firefighter recruit pay by 14 percent, which takes their pay from $35,592 to $40,682.
Pay increases for other officers and firefighters vary depending on their rank.
This comes as Durham police data show there are 87 officer vacancies, and 111 operational vacancies. The latest info from the Durham fire department shows they have 34 responder vacancies.
New data on the city’s website shows the turnover rate for police recruits went from 43 percent in Nov. 2020 to 56 percent a year later. The turnover rate for police officers went from 10 percent to 16 percent in the last 12 months.
The turnover rate for firefighter recruits is 10.9 percent and the turnover for firefighters went from 3.4 percent to 8.1 percent in the last year.
Also, city data showed that the attrition cost for a police recruit is $108,000 while it is $72,000 for a firefighter.
Durham Fraternal Order of Police spokesperson Larry Smith said in an interview last week that when he was with the Durham Police Department, the attrition rate was three or five officers a month, but now he said it is up to eight officers.
“The officers we’ve been losing are young officers, who have been there five years or less,” Smith said.
Smith said he thinks the pay increase will help with recruitment and retention, but he said the vacancies won’t get filled overnight.
“You didn’t get in this position in six months, you won’t get out in six months,” Smith said. “Recruiting is a challenge because everyone is pulling from the same field.”
Jimie Wright, president of the Professional Firefighters of Durham, said the fire department had 31 firefighters leave in the last year.
“We’re short now because of COVID, because of firefighters who have left, and we have been shutting trucks down each day,” Wright said.
Wright said the proposed pay increase is a step in the right direction, but he said there are concerns about pay compression under the plan. For instance, he said some newer firefighters are making just as much as firefighters who have been with the department for four to five years.
“We have at least 155 firefighters who are in sort of some similar position like that,” Wright said.
Wright said even with the pay increase, there are some firefighters who will not be making a living wage. This is due to the city’s ordinance that excludes firefighters from making $16.92 an hour since they work 56-hour weeks, instead of 40-hour weeks.
Wright said he hopes that the city will address these concerns at some point.
“Hopefully this is a good step in the right direction and working towards getting out of this hole and getting it filled,” Wright said.
The raise would go into effect immediately and show up in paychecks on Jan. 28.
This raise will cost the city of Durham $9 million annually.