By Carolyn Feibel
HOUSTON — Houston upped the ante on Dallas in the police recruitment race, offering $12,000 bonuses to recruits who sign up for cadet training this spring.
The City Council unanimously approved the bonus plan Wednesday. Up to 140 would-be officers could apply for the bonus. An $8,000 bonus will be offered to an additional 140 cadets who sign up later for summer training.
"We are in the hunt, we are competitive," Mayor Bill White said. The move is necessary to counter attractive signing offers from departments nationwide and from military recruiters, he said.
Dallas, for example, offers new cadets a $10,000 incentive.
The city's final outlay could be $2.8 million if training classes are filled to capacity. The Houston Police Department recently has struggled to fill its 70-slot classes. The last class had 43 cadets.
"Recruiting is very tough," said Executive Assistant Chief Martha Montalvo, who oversees HPD's administrative operations. "We're competing with the military and with other agencies.
"The work force is not out there with the skills we need or the background we need," Montalvo said, "and we're not going to lower our standards."
Police union leaders are ambivalent about the bonus plan, calling it a "Band-Aid" solution that ignores long-term needs. They would like an across-the-board pay raise for all ranks.
The one-time incentive may cause bitterness among new officers who just missed the bonus opportunity, said Mark Clark, executive director of the Houston Police Officers' Union.
"That's a tough pill to swallow," Clark said. "The message says your value does not mean as much to the city of Houston as the value of a new applicant."
Montalvo said she has not heard any complaints from new hires.
"Sometimes incentive programs are unfair if you're trying to balance multiple goals," White acknowledged Wednesday. But he dismissed concerns that new officers would quit in protest.
The administration wants to hire 1,300 additional officers to keep pace with the city's growth. Currently, Houston has about 4,800 on the police force.
"We need officers," said Councilwoman Melissa Noriega, who chairs the council's Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. "From the minute I started running for office, through three campaigns, it comes up at every interaction with the public."
Cities' salary differences
Houston's police cadets are paid a little more than $30,160 during their first year, which includes training and probation periods. In Dallas, trainees get $41,690.
White argued that focusing on trainee salaries is misleading, because after probation ends, a Houston police officer's base pay jumps to $37,103. A Dallas officer's pay at that point becomes $43,754, said Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association.
Actual take-home pay may be higher in each city, due to night and weekend incentives, overtime, equipment and extra pay for college degrees.
Councilman Ron Green asked White if the bonus system will be offered from now on. White said HPD would analyze the effect of the bonus and the city would consider changing incentives from time to time, as needed.
Green also said he hoped the bonuses do not have a negative effect on the ethnic makeup of the police force.
"I still hope we can keep up with our goals of moving the police force to look like the rest of the city," Green said.
Recent recruiting efforts by HPD included an open-house job fair at the academy, a new Web site where recruits can apply online, and $300,000 for print advertising.
Copyright 2008 The Houston Chronicle
Houston boosts HPD cadet bonus