City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to approve pay raises for police officers and firefighters of every rank, in an effort to counter staff shortages in Durham’s police and fire departments.
The raises, which take effect immediately, are intended to bring Durham’s public safety salaries up to competitive levels, after years of falling behind. Police officers and firefighters will begin receiving increased pay as soon as their next paycheck, on Jan. 28.
“Durham will be where I believe it belongs, right at the top of the list of our peer cities in terms of compensating our first responders,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton.
Before the raises, pay for Durham’s police and firefighters trailed behind market levels. Market research conducted by the city in August across 13 municipalities in North Carolina and Virginia found that Durham Police Department salaries lagged behind that of other cities by 12.4%, while fire department salaries lagged by 10.4%.
Police recruits will receive a 10.6% raise, increasing their annual pay from $38,511 to $42,593. Firefighter recruits will receive a 14.3% raise, from $35,592 to $40,682 annually. Employees of higher ranks will receive proportionately equal increases in pay. The raises will cost the city a total of just over $4 million for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Many Durham community activists have advocated for reforming or defunding the police, and reform efforts are underway, including the city’s new Community Safety Department. However, advocates for police reform did not comment during Tuesday’s meeting.
Instead, Durham community members voiced their support for the raises in the public chat alongside the meeting’s livestream. The commenters included numerous police officers and firefighters.
“Hoping to see the right thing done for Durham’s firefighters tonight,” wrote one firefighter ahead of the vote.
The new compensation plans were developed collaboratively by the Durham Human Resources Department and the city’s public safety staff.
Under the newly approved pay plan, Durham’s police and fire departments now offer the highest or second-highest salaries among a group of peer cities including Fayetteville, Greensboro, Raleigh and Winston-Salem. City officials said they hope the increase in pay will help attract and retain new recruits to fill vacancies in both departments.
Turnover rates among police recruits have increased from 43.3% to 55.6% over a 12-month period as of November 2021. To make up for the lack of personnel, Police Chief Patrice Andrews announced in December that high-ranking officers and detectives would temporarily join patrol units.
The pay raises also come during a spike in crime and gun violence in Durham. A recent rash of shootings has taken the lives of many community members, while the city recorded its highest number of homicides ever committed in one year in 2021.
Durham’s police and fire departments were overdue for a boost in salaries, based upon previously announced city goals.
A city pay plan adopted in 2017 calls for regular market adjustments to police and firefighters’ pay scales, along with merit raises for employees based on effective job performance. In recent years, however, both market adjustments and annual performance-based raises have been lacking.
In 2018 and 2019, pay rates for police and fire department staff went unchanged. In 2020, due to pandemic-related budget constraints, there was again no market adjustment, and employees also failed to receive annual merit raises. In 2021, the city once again did not offer annual performance-based raises.
The new compensation plans approved on Tuesday will help the city recover ground lost in the past two years.
“It’s not a final destination, but it’s an incredibly important step towards closing disparities in compensation for our workers here in Durham,” Middleton said.