Statement by Roanoke City's Police Association outlines concerns with pay, staffing

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - Not long after the announcement about the retirement of Police Chief Tim Jones this week, the Roanoke City Police Association released a strongly worded statement about issues they see with staffing.

The statement came after stories WDBJ7s Leanna Scachetti did asking the chief and City Manager about crime in the city.

WDBJ7 spoke with City Manager Bob Cowell regarding the contents of the letter Thursday. Friday, we spoke with Association President Christopher Levering, who penned the letter.

Levering said it was a coincidence that they released the statement the same day as the announcement of the Chief's retirement.

It addressed comments by the Chief and the City Manager regarding staffing needs of the police department, a number both men interpret differently.

Levering writes in the statement he sent only to the media, that Mr. Cowell’s numbers are not incorrect but that he interprets them differently than the association. Levering said Cowell "does not include officers who are not affective to the department’s objectives."

He goes on to say the agency is currently 43 officers below staffing levels; 39 of them are considered part of the patrol division. By his count, Levering says while the department as a whole is about 16 percent below capacity, the patrol division is operating at 32 percent below capacity.

He goes on to say they don’t feel Cowell’s count accurately depicts the deficit the department faces.

Levering said Cowell and City Council “seem as though they do not value or support the Police Department’s and Police Association’s efforts to achieve appropriately compensated staffing levels sufficient to properly serve and ensure the safety of the citizens of the City of Roanoke.”

Levering writes if the current trend continues, based on data from a pay study commissioned by the association and completed by Franck Analytics, the Roanoke Police Department can expect to lose an additional 15 officers by the end of the year.

Levering notes at the end of the letter that the association has presented this problem and “several potential solutions” to the City Manager and City Council and feels the association has continuously been disregarded. He goes on to state they feel both parties have been “either unwilling, ineffectual, or simply negligent in addressing these concerns.” He ends the letter calling on Cowell and City Council to address “the retention and pay issues” within the agency.”

Levering said Friday the association is worried about keeping officer jobs in the city competitive.

"Using strong words hopefully gets a strong response," Levering said. "And I've reached out to him, given them the pay studies, proposals, I've done all that leg work and to get absolutely no response back from my proposals, to me that's a disregard."

Levering said he's brought a pay study conducted by Franck Analytics out of Blacksburg, showing officers in Roanoke are often underpaid compared to similarly sized departments, accounting for cost of living.

Levering said conversations with city leaders have't made the progress he wants to see. He says he sees the staffing needs of the department differently than the city manager - and that those needs are affecting patrols.

"It's call to call to call; every time I look down at the computers, there's multiple calls holding and there's nobody to take the call."

Levering says officers are leaving for better paying jobs and he worries about the department's ability to retain good officers. When we spoke with Jones Friday, he said he first heard about the letter on our newscast.

'I said, huh, wasn't expecting that," Jones recalled. But Jones agrees his department could use more hands.

Levering is hoping to make progress with the city.

"I hope to just hear back from Mr. Cowell again and get the talking going again."

Levering did say he had an email exchange with City Manager Bob Cowell Friday - one that was friendly. What happens next remains to be seen.

Thursday, Cowell said he had not seen the letter but was more than happy to engage with the association in further discussion. He said he and council are concerned with adequate compensation of every employee.

"And to characterize otherwise is just disingenuous," he said. "It's not at all my perception, nor is it's the council's approach as we go along."

Cowell said he only met with the Association twice earlier this year, before they presented concerns at City Council in May.

“I will remind the association that decisions regarding pay are not based by council. They’re based by management. And of course would welcome continuation of that discussion but again I haven’t seen the letter.”

But Cowell said he remains open to having more meetings to talk about the issues.

"If they wish to have those discussions further, then those are opportunities for us to talk. But not in the way in which they've gone about it thus far," Cowell said. "I'm not going to have the discussion in the newspaper or in the media or among the meetings of the council."

You can read Levering's full letter as well as the city manager's response here.

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