WMPD In ‘Crisis’ | Analysis

Photo via Wilton Manors Police Department, Facebook.

When Wilton Manors’ police chief, Gary Blocker, announced in April that there were seven out of 32 open officer positions, eyebrows were raised. During a meeting between the city and the department’s union, the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), it was revealed the situation is much more dire than first believed. 

In the coming weeks, the number of open positions could rise to 11, one-third of the force. Now it appears that is a “best case” scenario. Over the next few months, the number could spike to 20 as more officers become eligible for retirement.

There are no quick, easy, or inexpensive solutions.

WMPD officers are generally well liked in the city. With a population of roughly 12,000 and only two square miles in size, officers know the area. They know the people. People know them. Now that familiarity is quickly eroding.

An imminent solution is contracting with Fort Lauderdale Police. One person involved in the negotiations said FLPD would start taking WMPD shifts as early as this summer.

Another person said it’s entirely possible that the city will lose its police department and law enforcement would be done through the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO), like Oakland Park. However, people in the city and PBA say a lot has to happen before that happens.

Even with “only” 11 vacancies, officers are being pushed to their limits. Overtime and double shifts are common even in the best of times. Law enforcement is a stressful job, and it’s easy to get burned out. It’s critical officers have their time off for family events, vacations, and to just clear their heads.

While FLPD can step in short term, recruiting and training officers, even ones that come with experience, takes months. Given that timeline, this is a problem that will last well into 2025.

Morale & Money

To solve the situation, the city and PBA are reopening the contract that was finalized in December. This will be the third contract negotiation in 19 months.

In September 2022, the city gave a raise for the last year of a contract from 2020. However, that essentially became a COLA (cost of living allowance) because the 2020 contract didn’t anticipate higher inflation in 2021 and 2022.

The PBA cites a 2020 salary survey that shows officers were underpaid by double-digit percent then and now.

Now the city is offering a raise and incentivizing longevity. At a meeting on May 23, they are offered an additional 8%, which would create a COLA of 16.4%. They will up the hiring bonus to $10,000, up from $5,000.

It sounds like a lot, but PBA representatives say it’s not close to what’s needed. The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office is pilfering officers from across Broward County, including BSO and FLPD. In this competitive market, money talks.

One PBA negotiator said in the meeting that morale is not an issue, calling Wilton Manors a “unique and exceptional” place to work. Officers love working in Wilton. There isn’t a lot of violence and their relationship with the community is generally positive.

The PBA is asking for, essentially, a restructuring of the pay schedule. Currently, it’s possible for a new officer to come in and be paid more than officers already on the force. They’re asking for that to be remedied and, among other things, a starting pay scale that sets up the department to be competitive in the years to come.

One PBA official said the ask may be higher than what is needed today, but being able to recruit talent is difficult without cash to back up an offer. They also want longevity pay to start sooner. They say many officers are lured away long before the city has to make good on seniority bonuses.

Wilton Manors negotiators took the requests and the meeting adjourned. They are expected to meet again in mid-June.

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Crisis at WMPD: Officers Leave Due to Poor Pay and Benefits

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