By Mike McKibbin
Law enforcement officers in Edgewater may continue to come and go at a rapid pace unless they are paid more money.
At the July 19 City Council meeting, Police Chief John Mackey said officer salaries were the main topic at a recent department retreat.
Mackey has headed the 17-officer department for three years and worked for the Lakewood Police Department for two decades before his Edgewater appointment.
In an interview, Mackey said he also visited with many former Edgewater police chiefs and officers at a gathering related to the city’s under-construction civic center building.
“The consistent story I heard was how low pay for Edgewater officers led to so many moving on,” Mackey stated. “Those ex-chiefs probably represented about 40 years of experience in Edgewater, so I’d say that’s some real history.”
Mackey said he brought the issue to the council partly because he has a strong department of officers, supervisors and commanders — with an average length of service of five years — he does not want to lose to surrounding cities.
In a separate interview, Mayor Laura Keegan said the city council wants officer salaries to be as competitive as possible and noted the city’s comprehensive benefits and health care insurance helps. Salaries are set during the city budget process, and Keegan added the city pays for up to a year of officer training, equipment, uniforms and safety measures, including Kevlar vests.
“Our officers are our most valued assets, but we only have so many resources as a small town,” Keegan stated.
In a recent newsletter, Mackey listed the 2016 salaries for officers and sergeants in Arvada, Denver, Edgewater, Golden, Lakewood, Sheridan and Wheat Ridge:
Starting (and maximum) salaries for police officers: Arvada, $58,333, ($80,023); Denver, $55,299, ($82,431); Edgewater, $53,381, ($65,652); Golden, $53,300, ($79,650); Lakewood, $59,946, ($83,262); Sheridan, $50,900, ($76,300); Wheat Ridge, $52,000, ($76,400).
Starting (and maximum) salaries for sergeants: Arvada, $88,654, ($100,840); Denver, $98,556, ($98,556 - no spread); Edgewater, $65,039, ($79,990); Golden, $80,199, ($95,700); Lakewood, $89,523, ($109,200); Sheridan, $63,200, ($98,000); Wheat Ridge, $68,910, ($103,300).
Edgewater police salaries are competitive for entry-level officers but quickly fall behind, Mackey noted in his newsletter. The maximum salary for an Edgewater officer is more than $10,000 less than comparable salaries at Wheat Ridge, Lakewood and Golden, while Edgewater sergeant salaries are far less than sergeants in surrounding departments.
The city is in the midst of a salary study of staff positions and Keegan said she knows city administrators “want to see us pay our officers as much as we can afford to pay.”
“Our officers are happy to work in a small city and I know they enjoy the work,” Keegan added. “So we will certainly try to see they are fairly compensated.”
Mackey acknowledged the city gave officers a 10 percent increase in salary (beyond the cost of living) in mid-2016 — following a no-confidence vote by officers regarding City Manager H.J. Stalf — and planned another 10 percent increase in 2019.
Mackey said Stalf had proposed a $500 bonus for every officer as a show of goodwill while working towards making Edgewater officer salaries commensurate with Wheat Ridge.
“That would be a big, big step,” Mackey stated. “Because of its location near Sheridan and Colfax, Edgewater police officers face the same variety and type of calls that more urban departments face even though the town is smaller,” Mackey added in his newsletter. “If salaries do not rise to the level of surrounding police departments... The Edgewater Police Department will be known as a place to start one’s law enforcement career and then move on to another community that pays them what they deserve.”