Officials Say Officer Pay National Challenge

Finding money to increase officers pay is more difficult than ever.

Meridian Police Chief Lee Shelbourn estimates that almost half of his officers make less than $30,000 a year. He and state officials say low pay for officers is not an isolated concern.

The starting salary for a certified officer with the Meridian Police Department is just under $25,000. That's before taxes and insurance costs are taken out of it.

According to Shelbourn, the average gross salary for a ten-year veteran with the department ranges between $25,000 and $30,000.

"Our officers, what they choose rather than quit is to get a second job because law enforcement becomes a way of life," said Shelbourn.

Of the 105 officers who work in Meridian, the chief says the majority of them have worked for MPD less than ten years, or more than 15. He says the low pay is not isolated to this area.

"It's a national problem," said Shelbourn. "You'll see departments throughout the country that make twice what we make, but the cost of living is twice what it is here."

"I won't say we're overworked, but we're heavily tasked," said Chief Randy Stringer, president of the Mississippi Police Chiefs Association. "Compared to other states, we are under paid. You've got to make it attractive for people to enter this line of work. It's not because of the pay, it's because they enjoy the job and like helping other people. But if you don't pay them, you're going to lose them to other professions."

Both Stringer and Shelbourn say that most municipalities are cash strapped and there's no extra money to boost salaries.

However, Chief Shelbourn says for the first time in three years his officers, along with other city workers, recently received a 1.5% pay raise.

"As a whole, the Meridian Police Department is doing an excellent job," said Shelbourn. "Do we have our bumps in the road? Absolutely. We always will because it's not a perfect world."