Firm to pinpoint police dissatisfaction

MU consultants hope to complete the study by the end of November.
Sunday, November 5, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:07 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Columbia Police Department has hired an MU consulting firm to figure out why its officers say they’re underpaid and underappreciated.

The results of a survey of city employees, released last week, found that 87 percent of the officers polled did not feel that their salaries were fair given their responsibilities, and more than two-thirds said the department did little to recognize quality employees.

Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm, who filled out one of the surveys himself, said the responses were too general to be of help.

“It’s our job in management to do everything we can to improve in those areas,” Boehm said. “That’s why we went ahead and decided to work with a consultant. While the survey suggested some areas of concern, it didn’t pinpoint what those areas might be.”

To help get a clearer picture of officers’ concerns, the department hired the MU Center for the Study of Organizational Change, a nonprofit organization established in 1997 by MU professor Michael Diamond.

“A survey like that can tell you very general things about your organization, so the point of doing an organizational analysis, which is what we are doing, is to make some sense as to why the responses were what they were from the survey,” Diamond said.

The survey of 1,174 city employees was conducted in April by Tallahassee, Fla.-based Evergreen Solutions, LLC. It identified several areas of concern among officers, with pay and recognition ranking highest on the list. In addition, 64 percent of officers surveyed pointed to insufficient funds and the inability of the department to recruit people with the right skills.

Boehm said that while the department is fully staffed for what its budget allows at this time, he would like to see more officers on the force.

“Many officers believe we need a lot more police officers in order to do the job well,” Boehm said. “It’s something we discuss a lot and something I don’t totally disagree with.”

The department has added 22 new positions for police officers in the seven years Boehm has been police chief, he said.

City Manager Bill Watkins, said an increase in the police department’s budget would be difficult without a tax hike, which he said he would not support.

“What would you decrease?” Watkins asked. “What you try to do is create balance. I would like to add more police officers, but we need more firemen and road workers, too.”

In response to a question about concerns over officer recruitment, Boehm defended his department’s hiring practices.

“We make every effort to try to recruit qualified individuals and really feel that we do,” Boehm said. He noted the department’s requirement that rookies complete at least 60 hours of college credit and must pass a background check. New officers must also pass written, physical and psychological examinations.

Jim Loveless, Columbia’s Fourth Ward city councilman, said he questioned if any city department ever feels it has sufficient resources.

“I don’t know that any public safety department or most any city department ever feels they have the number of employees they would like to have,” Loveless said. “And I don’t think any civil servant feels that they are being paid as much as they would like to be paid.”

Boehm said the center’s organizational study will cost $20,000, which will come out of the department’s budget. Diamond, however, cited a figure closer to $28,000. The center is currently in the process of interviewing officers individually and in groups with the hope of identifying their specific concerns.

Diamond said the center plans to complete its study by the end of the month.

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