Local agencies hold their own in finding officers



December 4, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Manning the troops of law enforcement departments can be a challenge.
Low pay and a suffering image especially pose a problem for departments in big cities.
Locally, however, the Iola Police Department and Allen County Sheriff’s Department, are holding their own.
Iola Police Chief Jared Warner and Sheriff Bryan Murphy spoke about a recent Associated Press article detailing the difficulties such agencies as the Wichita Police Department — which has 50 vacancies — and the Kansas Highway Patrol — with more than 100 openings — are facing.
The AP article said two reasons for the shortage: low starting salaries, and negative publicity regarding law enforcement.
While both Murphy and Warner noted pay always has been an issue for officers and deputies, the negative publicity for law enforcement isn’t nearly as prominent in rural areas.
“I’d agree that the negative publicity might be an issue in larger cities,” Warner said, “but it’s really not that big of an issue in this area.”
Still, as young professionals opt for higher-paying gigs, finding new officers can be difficult.
Warner noted the department received only four applications over a two-week period for a recently advertised position. Typically, the department would receive more than a dozen applications over the same time period.
“It was a little bit odd,” Warner acknowledged.
Murphy agreed that pay is probably the biggest barrier to finding qualified applicants for Allen County Sheriffs Department.
“Our budget’s pretty tight, to the point that we can’t really recruit somebody who has a college degree, because we don’t pay enough,” Murphy said.
Even for low-level positions, the department struggles.
Jailers at Allen County — almost to the person — could go to work at a neighboring county and earn about $3 more per hours for an identical job.
“That makes it tough,” Murphy said.
The sheriff’s department tries to make up for the pay gap through other means.
Allen County deputies, for example, can drive their patrol vehicle home when they’re off duty.
“A lot of other counties don’t do that,” Murphy said. “It’s just a small fringe benefit. And the cost of living here may not be as high as it is in other parts of the state.”
Both Warner and Murphy said their departments benefited by the types of officers who sought positions here because of their civic mindedness.

ONE SUCH example is Brian Plumlee, who started his career in law enforcement with IPD in 2012.
Plumlee, 48, had been in other, higher-paying careers, including restaurant and hotel management and telecommunications before moving to Iola about five years ago.
A retired Marine, Plumlee met Iolans Mike Aronson and David Shelby, who also had served in the Corps. Both encouraged Plumlee to consider a career in law enforcement.
“People in the past told me I’d be good at it,” Plumlee said.
Plumlee left his job in sales with Verizon to join the police department, a move he says he has relished.
“I enjoy what I do,” Plumlee said. “When I moved here, I wanted to try to make a difference and do some good in the community. I think I can do that as a police officer.”
Plumlee formerly worked in the Kansas City area. “Granted, I used to make a lot more money, but I had to because my house was a lot more expensive. Down here, I could afford to make a little bit less. It’s not a big deal. It’s a matter of making sure the roof stays over the head, and the family’s fed.
“A lot of officers don’t make it past five years,” he said, because of pay, stress or other reasons. “It happens, and that’s why a lot of police departments are having a hard time. But for me,  I enjoy my job, and I enjoy the people I work with.”

BEN BIGGS, 25, grew up in the Moran area certain he wanted a career in law enforcement.
He signed on as an officer with the Moran Police Department in 2012, before joining the Iola Police Department in March 2014.
He, too, eschewed other potentially more lucrative careers.
“I don’t have any regrets,” he said. “This was what I was always wanted to do. I don’t know what else I’d want to do if I wasn’t an officer.”

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