Meridian City Hall

Meridian City Hall 

The Meridian City Council members voted Tuesday to defund vacant positions within Meridian Police Department in order to give the city’s current police force a boost in pay.

Ward 3 Councilman Joseph Norwood proposed the action to take the funding from 25 percent of the police department’s unfilled positions and redistribute the money across MPD’s payroll.

“What I would like the council to do is to approve the motion to take 25 percent of those unfilled billets, take the funds from those billets to use to give not only the officers a raise but the civilians that work within the police department raises as well,” he said.

Hiring and retaining an adequate number of police officers has been a priority for both the council and city administration. MPD has more than 100 positions within the department, but staffing issues have forced the department to operate with about half those positions unfilled.

Police Chief Deborah Naylor Young said solving the police department’s staffing issues requires both hiring and retaining officers. The low pay officers receive within the department makes that difficult, she said.

“As fast as we get people in, we’re still losing people,” she said. “I think right now to get the morale up and to keep the good officers that we have there, because we do have some good officers, that they need to get their pay increased.”

Young said the department is working to hire new officers, but that isn’t easy. Recently, she said, eight people pick up applications to become a police officer. Of those eight, four people showed up to take the exam, and two passed.

“When they see what police officers are starting out making, they laugh,” she said.

MPD currently has between 40 and 50 unfilled positions, and Young said she was willing to give up 12 positions to increase officers’ pay. The move would free up about $500,000 to go toward raises.

Councilman George Thomas said he wasn’t against raising police officer’s pay, but he couldn't support the motion. Meridian residents, he said, want more police on the streets. Eliminating positions while citizens are calling for a greater police presence was not something he could support, he said.

Thomas also raised concern with how the raises would be distributed among the officers and staff. Allocating the funds is one thing, he said, but there needed to be a plan in place to get the money from the budget to officer’s paychecks.

“It’s not that simple,” he said. “You’ve got to decide how much, who, where, when. Is it going stay in the pay bands? I’m not saying don’t do it, but there’s details to this rather than just saying take 25 percent of the money and do raises.”

Mayor Jimmie Smith agreed with Thomas that giving raises was more than just allocating the money. He said his administration was already looking at raising salaries for city employees and urged the council to allow the city to draw up a plan for raising pay before moving forward.

“We are looking at raising everyone’s salary, not just police, but there’s a study that we’re doing to do that,” he said. “Now, y’all can do what you. I don’t have any say over that, but what Dr. Thomas said is true. You don’t have any figures. You’re just saying 25 percent.”

During budget hearings in August, the council heard from multiple city departments about the need for increased pay. In the hearings Smith cautioned the council focusing only on the police department pay could breed discontent in other departments.

Solving the city’s pay issues, Smith said, would require a detailed, practical plan to be successful. The council’s plan, he said, was not what is needed.

“We don’t need to do micro fitting, because that’s what you all are doing,” he said. “You’re micro fitting something here.”

Meridian police officers make about $16 per hour, or $1.74 less than the median pay for patrol officers in Mississippi. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the median hourly pay for officers in Mississippi is $17.74.

However, BLS data from 2020 show Mississippi is one of the lowest paying states for police officers, with the median pay nationally standing at $31.51 per hour and the bottom 10 percent at $18.47 per hour.

Despite the low pay, Mississippi has the second highest concentration of police officers in the nation, with police and sheriff’s patrol officers accounting for 7.22 of every 1,000 jobs. Only the District of Columbia has a higher concentration of officers at 7.99 per 1,000.

Norwood said he would like to use the funds from the 12 unfilled positions to try to get MPD pay closer to the $20 per hour mark. He said how to divide the funds between officers would be a job for the city’s finance department and Chief Young, but he felt it was important to allocate the money and get the ball rolling.

The motion passed with a 4-1 vote, with Dwayne Davis, Norwood, Romande Walker and Ty Bell Lindsey voting yes and Thomas voting no.

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