Since 2012 the 7 officers have either left for new positions or retired from the St. James Police Department.

That combined with the difficulty of finding qualified candidates to fill positions it has left the department many times in situations where they were short staffed.

During the St. James City Council Meeting on Tuesday a proposal made by Police Chief Rick Eisfeld was entertained to try to help recruit more candidates as well as retain the officers they have for longer.

The proposal presented by Eisfeld would have officers who start in 2018 start at step 5 which is $24.70. Currently officers start off at step 1 which is $22.16.

Out of the current 4 patrol officers who fall in the union pay scale 2 have started in 2018 and one officer Rob Fehrman is at the last step which is step 9.

The other officer, Jonathan LeClaire is currently at step 4 and with the change will move to Step 6 which would be a bump from $24.04 in 2018 to $25.38.

The proposal was approved unanimously.

In his letter to City Council Eisfeld explained one of the reasons for his proposal is because of the lack of applications compared to when he started in 1985.

“ When I was hired back in 1985 the City would get about 80 to 95 applications for one job opening. Today the applicant pool is almost nonexistent. When we did our latest hiring process, we had 7 applications and 3 of them were not qualified to apply, therefore could not even be hired as a Police Officer. The last hiring we did that closed on July 27 we received a total of 10 application for the job posting which was open for approximately one month. Of those 10 people that applied three did not accept an offer to interview with us and a fourth failed to show up for his interview.”

The letter would go on to  explain while the proposal would be a change it is something that is needed.

“ I understand that this is a change, but times have changed and we need to keep up with those changes. The Law Enforcement field is wide open for employment and these young qualified applicants can pick and choose where they want to apply. We hold the Police Department along with all of the Officers at a very high standard and wish to continue honoring this practice. Therefore, it’s  imperative that we are able to compete with area law enforcement agencies when it comes to hiring qualified applicants as a Police Officer.”

During an interview with the Plaindealer Chief Eisfeld also explained that while the officers in St. James are paid significantly less than the Sheriff’s Office who they work next to literally as their offices are next to each other.

Another thing that was pointed out by Eisfeld was the amount of calls that they answer every year compared to the Watonwan County Sheriff’s Office and a similar size city like Windom, both departments that have more officers and staff than the St. James Police Department.

According to a chart provided by the Chief the St. James Police Department has had 2681 call to service calls this year compared to the 2291 calls that the Sheriff’s Office has taken this year.

Since 2015 these numbers have shown a pattern of the City Police Department having more call compared to the Sheriff’s Department.

In that time span the most call to services the Police Department had was 5287 in 2017 compared to the 2876 calls the Sheriff’s Office had. That year Windom had 4303 calls.

While he explained that he  is not discrediting the hard work of the Sheriff’s Department and other sized departments like St. James Eisfeld pointed out in the letter that due to the smaller staff and more calls they have to work harder than the deputies.

“ We will most likely have to look at the rest of the pay scale for the Police Department at some point. Our Officers are working harder than the Sheriff’s Deputies but currently they start at $2.66 per hour less than a Deputy. These officers work shoulder to shoulder with each other and they are aware of the wage disparity. If we change our starting pay to Step 5 level we would only have .12 cent wage disparity (not factoring weekend premium) instead of $2.66.

While data was only available from 2015 and on Eisfeld explained that they have always been busy since he started with the Department in 1985.