(CAMERON, Mo.) Applications for law enforcement positions have declined nationwide over the past five years, but Cameron Police are working to reverse the trend within their own department.
"Ever since I've been here at Cameron, we've always had a large group of people show up for any openings that we had and we started seeing a decline in that," Chief Rick Bashor, Cameron Police Department, said. "In fact, in one of our hiring processes, no one showed up."
During this period last year, Bashor said the department had to shut down a portion of their detective division, putting the officers back on the streets to respond to emergencies.
"We're always going to have officers out there answering calls, and to me, that's that baseline of law enforcement. We have to have officers in uniform in patrol cars, out patrolling and answering calls," Bashor said. "So, our road division always stayed strong, but just that follow up to those bigger cases coming in, that process was a lot slower."
Over the summer of 2019, Cameron police said they saw an increase in those bigger cases being reported. In fact, the department responded to two officer-involved shooting cases happening within a month of each other.
"We're seeing that our crime rate is staying really steady, but since I've become Chief we're seeing more of those bigger cases of officer-involved shootings not only in our community but in surrounding communities," Bashor said.
For these reasons, the department started looking at ways they could attract and retain more officers, starting with the pay. Bashor said that surrounding agencies roughly the same size (Smithville, Kearney and Excelsior Springs) were able to pay about $8,000 more for starting officers.
"That's hard to overcome when you have that new cadet that's coming out of an academy and you're wanting to promote your department to have them come and work for your community, but yet we have this big hurdle that we are trying to get over," Bashor said.
The department met with Cameron City Manager Steve Rasmussen and city council members to discuss possible solutions to the issue, eventually landing on a 1/4 cent sales tax.
"A lot of the departments that we talked to has had a sales tax to help them with that side," Bashor said.
The department said higher pay rates could help them compete with surrounding agencies like St. Joseph, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Liberty, etc. It would also help in keeping officers for longer periods of time, cutting the cost of continuously training new cadets.
"[Cadets] come here, we spend a couple of years training them - I think the other agencies realize that we have a decent training program - and then they get an officer that's up and ready to go right away," Sgt. Ryan O'Boyle, Cameron Police Department, said.
However, it's not only officers who are facing low pay. Bashor said the department has seen a 185.71 percent turnover rate in its dispatch unit over the past 5 years. That equates to an annual turnover rate of 37.14 percent.
"We have lost several dispatchers at one time, moving on to other agencies or just moving out of this career choice," Bashor said. "It does put a strain on the rest of the department because we are a small department."
On top of raising pay for officers and dispatchers and reinstating the detective division, the funds from the tax would also help the department fix issues within the public safety building.
The building was built in 1996, with the agency moving in a year later. Bashor said the roof needs replacing because of leaks and water damage.
"It's a large-ticket item that we have to take care of," Bashor said. "So, not only would that tax help us with retention of officers to try and be more competitive but also start taking care of some things in our department."
Cameron City Council passed a resolution putting the 1/4 cent sales tax up for a public vote on the November ballot. The vote will take place on November 5.