Resident calls for police pay hikes

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SMITHFIELD — Town officials are disputing claims of low morale within the Smithfield Police Department.

Tony D. Nixon, manager of operations at Walter Sanders Funeral Home and Cremation Services in Smithfield, said he was making “a 911 call” to Mayor Andy Moore and the Smithfield Town Council as he addressed them during the public comment period at the Feb. 12 council meeting.

“As citizens, we’re concerned about the state of the men and women who protect us,” said Nixon. “The emergency is about public safety. While we have a nationally accredited police agency, there’s something lacking in our response to them.”

Nixon said the Smithfield Police Department has lost 24 officers in the past six years to neighboring law enforcement agencies because of the town’s salary and incentive structure. He said Smithfield, the county seat and second-largest Johnston County municipality, ranks fourth in police salary behind Selma, Benson and Clayton. He also said other municipalities permit officers to take home police cars. Smithfield doesn’t, said Nixon.

“Why would police officers come to Smithfield to work in a more dangerous environment and be paid less?” said Nixon. “We have morale problems that could lead to safety issues. We’re the county seat, the largest economic retail center in Johnston. We need to recruit and keep the best of the best.”

Nixon said it’s up to the town council to “be proactive, take some time to speak to those officers on the front line and find out what tools they need to effectively do their jobs and determine how Smithfield can recruit and maintain police officers.”

Smithfield town spokesman Tim Kerigan said council members appreciated Nixon’s concerns but that Nixon’s “personal study is a false alarm not based on factual evidence. “

“Mr. Nixon did not receive any of his information from Police Chief Keith Powell or our human resources department,” said Kerigan who is also director of the human resources department. “The town of Smithfield, under guidance of our council, has invested a lot of time and resources into a salary survey that we expect to receive soon.”

Kerigan said benefits, incentives and many of the recommendations Nixon suggested were discussed throughout the last budget process. As an example, take-home cars at a price of about $640,000 were also explored but could not be achieved without property tax increases.

“Once we receive the salary survey, recommendations will be made for all personnel within the town of Smithfield, not just the police department,” said Kerigan. “There is no factual basis to say the morale is low within the police department. Our turnover rate is below the national average of 10.8 percent.”

Kerigan also disputed Nixon’s claim that Smithfield is “more dangerous” than surrounding communities.

“In fact, our crime rate is dropping year after year,” said Kerigan. And, according to Smithfield’s 2017 citizen survey, over 95 percent of our community stated they feel safe here.”

“The Smithfield Police Department is a nationally accredited law enforcement agency that does a fantastic job in today’s environment, said Kerigan. “ We have community policing programs that support the 21st-century policing recommendations that were installed under President Obama and we have great officers that produce great results for our citizens.”