Scottsdale police officers may see step-based salary program

The city of Scottsdale appears to be in the early stages of developing a defined step-salary system for its existing and new police officers. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

The city of Scottsdale appears to be in the early stages of developing a defined step-based salary plan for its existing and new police officers. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Scottsdale City Council has taken the first step in a process that could potentially lead to a pay raise for Scottsdale police officers and keep the city competitive in terms of recruiting and retaining its best officers.

The council has instructed the city manager’s office to investigate a “step-based salary plan” for the police department.

The city manager’s office has been asked to create a financial policy statement and provide input on what sort of an impact a 3-to-4 percent fixed salary-step increase would have on the city’s budget.

The informal direction came at a Feb. 10 work study session at City Hall, 3939 E. Drinkwater Blvd.

A step-based salary plan establishes specific rates that are awarded at various intervals, but still based on employee merit accomplishments.

For the past six months, the city has been studying police officer compensation to determine if its officers are paid “equitably and fairly.”

The study comes on the heels of fear the city may be losing good officers to other cities simply because of better pay.

The compensation study was presented to the council by Brent Stockwell, Scottsdale director of strategic initiatives.

The survey included pay ranges from neighboring police departments, the amount of officers on staff and established salary schedule procedures from each of the neighboring departments.

With the exceptions of the Town of Gilbert and city of Chandler, Scottsdale employs the fewest amount of officers compared to other departments included in the survey.

The results:

  • Scottsdale — 328 officers with a salary range from $54,932.80 to $79,664;
  • Chandler — 252 officers with a salary range from $53,328 to $75,737;
  • Gilbert — 187 officers with a salary range from $52,250 to $73,528;
  • Glendale — 529 officers with a salary range from $52,492 to $73,851;
  • Mesa — 674 officers with a salary range from $54,192.70 to $76,502.40;
  • Phoenix — 2,356 officers with a salary range from $46,238 to $72,426.

Addressing the concerns

According to Mr. Stockwell, there’s a concern that officers will eventually leave for higher pay somewhere else.

“Voluntary (turnover) is pretty much on track for the last two years,” he said. “But officers have begun leaving for nearby agencies and this is something that hasn’t happened over the last six years.”

During the last fiscal year, 19 police officers voluntarily left the Scottsdle police force while the year prior saw only 10 opt out for greener pastures, the numbers show.

“One can assume compensation is a component of that,” Mr. Stockwell said of routine exit interviews conducted. “Any officer after five years can make more at any of these (other) departments.”

Between eight and 10 years on the job is when most police officers make the decision to ascend the salary ladder by attaining new leadership roles within a police department, Mr. Stockwell says.

“The largest concentration of (Scottsdale) officers are in that six- to nine-year range,” Mr. Stockwell said of the Scottsdale Police Department. “The issue is how you get salary increases and how you go through the range.”

A police compensation policy is something other neighboring police departments have and Scottsdale doesn’t. But Scottsdale also doesn’t have a police union.
“(Other municipalities) have a defined philosophy of how to pay police officers.

Scottsdale doesn’t have a philosophy of how it pays its officers, at least over the past few years,” he told council. “Each one of these cities has a union … there are unique issues each city faces.”

Suzanne Klapp

Suzanne Klapp

Scottsdale City Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp supports enacting a defined payment program in order to retain and attract quality officers to Scottsdale.

“They want a program they can depend on,” she said. “I don’t want us to keep losing police officers and I don’t want other departments poaching our officers.”

Scottsdale Councilman David Smith feels there may be other reasons an officer opts to leave Scottsdale for a job elsewhere.

“We can’t assume they are leaving because of compensation,” he said of officers who have recently left the force. “And, we really don’t have a transfer-in policy, per say.”

Councilman Smith says if the city wants to pay its officers more money, it should be based on merit.

“I want to see something that says we’re spending taxpayer dollars on something better,” he said when discussing the proposed 3 percent fixed salary-step program.

Mr. Stockwell points out between the employment years of eight and 10 is when most officers are most likely to seek a better paycheck at a neighboring department, according to salary comparisons.

“You are setting employees on a plan that is going to get them from the bottom to the top,” he said of a creation of the step program. “In that eight- to-10-year period is where it is very competitive.”

Kathy Littlefield

Kathy Littlefield

Scottsdale Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield says she supports developing a defined policy that addresses compensation equality issues.

“If we don’t have that then we will always be behind the curve on attracting officers here,” she said of the need of a police compensation policy.

“That’s an issue that needs to be resolved. We need to have a policy in place.”

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane says he wants to make sure the police department is on a level playing field when it comes to retaining and attracting police officers.

“We may be an impediment to free agency. We want to make sure we are playing with the same group of players,” Mayor Lane said of how compensation rates and progression impact a pool of employee candidates.  “We are looking for something fair and sustainable to move forward.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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