By Margaret Beimdiek
The Lexington Police Department is fully staffed for the first time in years.
Police Chief Angela Greene said there were five vacancies among officers in 2021, and that all have been filled. No officer has left the department in the past two years.
Greene credited a recruitment and retention plan implemented in 2021 that offered officers monetary incentives and other benefits to join and stay with the department.
“You had a mass exit of people that just wanted to leave the law enforcement profession altogether,” Angela Greene said.
“Back in October of 2021, when we started seeing that exit and individuals going to other law enforcement agencies for more pay, we looked at the comparable salaries in the area and made ourselves competitive,” Greene said.
The plan started with a 12% pay increase in 2021. Salaries were then raised an additional 5% in July 2023. The current starting salary for an uncertified officer is $39,000. An uncertified officer is someone who has not completed the Police Academy in Virginia.
The department then started offering signing bonuses ranging from $1,500 to $5,000. Greene said current officers could receive bonuses ranging from $750 to $1,250 for referring a new officer to the department.
The plan also introduced a $2,500 retention bonus for current officers if they signed a two-year commitment to stay with the department.
And the department started allowing officers to take squad cars home with them after their shifts.
Vacancies in law enforcement is a national issue. Many small- and big-city departments have struggled to maintain their staffing after backlash against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 by a Minneapolis police officer.
“You had a mass exit of people that just wanted to leave the law enforcement profession altogether,” Greene said.
The police chief said inspiring younger generations to join law enforcement is also important to the long-term future of police departments. She said giving young people early exposure to the profession may inspire them to pursue careers as police officers.
The Cadet Program
The department’s Cadet Program, which was started last year, offers part-time employment to local university students to learn basic skills, such as traffic enforcement and other duties. The college students help alleviate the workloads of full-time officers.
The program partners with Mountain Gateway Community College, Southern Virginia University, Virginia Military Institute, and Washington and Lee University.
There are three cadet positions, and all are filled by students, two from VMI, and one from Mountain Gateway Community College. Greene said they have all expressed interest in staying with the Lexington Police Department after they graduate from college. But the department does not have any vacancies at this time.
“If we get them interested in law enforcement as a career, then the field of law enforcement is improved,” Lexington City Manager Jim Halasz said. “Every department is looking for somebody. If we’re all looking to recruit and train and familiarize young people with law enforcement, we all benefit.”