Excessive Attrition a One-Time Problem for Police Agencies
Spikes in attrition rates at several federal law-enforcement agencies are attributable to the creation of the Transportation Security Administration and are unlikely to repeat, according to a recently released General Accounting Office report.
GAO studied fiscal 2002 recruitment, attrition and pay rates at 13 agencies in the Washington metropolitan area, limiting its scope to those agencies with more than 50 officers, such as the Capitol Police, U.S. Park Police, Supreme Court Police and Library of Congress Police.
“[D]uring fiscal year 2002, 8 of the 13 police forces experienced their highest annual turnover rates over the 6-year period, from fiscal years 1997 through 2002,” the report states.
The study found a total of 729 officers left the 13 agencies in 2002, compared to only 375 in fiscal 2001. The 2002 figures include 599 officers who left “voluntarily,” or for reasons other than retirement, disability, death, layoffs or misconduct.
Of those officers, 316 became employees of TSA, including 313 as federal air marshals. Another 148 officers, or 25 percent, joined other federal law-enforcement agencies.
“Given that TSA’s Federal Air Marshal Program has now been established, and the buildup in staffing has been substantially completed, the increase in turnover … may have been a one-time occurrence,” the report concludes.
Although the report states that no pattern exists between pay and turnover rates, it finds officers joined TSA “to earn higher salaries, federal law enforcement retirement benefits and a type of pay premium for unscheduled duty.” Among the 13 surveyed agencies, only the Supreme Court, Capital Police, Secret Service and Park Police also participate in the federal law-enforcement retirement benefits program.
Capitol Police had attributed high attrition rates to the creation of TSA, although officials had said attrition had returned to normal levels in recent months.
According to GAO’s study, the Capitol Police — the largest agency in the group, with 1,278 officers — had a 13 percent attrition rate in fiscal 2002, a total of 160 officers, including 143 “voluntary separations.”
The Secret Service Uniformed Division, which at 1,072 officers was the second largest agency examined in the report, lost 25 percent of its force, including 234 voluntary separations and 39 retirements.
The report also examined incentive programs used by the agencies to retain officers.
Since the report was conducted, the Capitol Police have added numerous financial incentives, such as tuition-reimbursement programs and additional pay for specialized training.
Those programs, created by the fiscal 2003 omnibus spending bill, are now playing a key role as the law-enforcement agency seeks to swell its ranks to more than 1,800 officers by the close of fiscal 2004.
“We are pursuing and initiating recruitment, relocation and retention allowances,” said Capitol Police spokeswoman Jessica Gissubel.
At a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing in May, Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer called the programs “a significant advantage in recruiting, hiring and retaining good men and women in officer positions, as well as attracting highly qualified civilian professionals for key support roles and functions.”
The department now has about 1,400 sworn officers and 227 civilian staff members, and plans to grow to 1,569 sworn officers by this fall, and 1,833 officers in the following fiscal year. The agency is also seeking funds to increase its civilian staff to 573 during that period.
However, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, said at a Thursday hearing that funds for any additional officers will be put on hold until the Capitol Police complete a strategic planning study required by the 2003 omnibus spending bill. The study is due in August.
“We have to pause and say there’s been a lot of growth,” Kingston said.
The department is also working toward a merit pay program, which could be used in conjunction with annual testing required for marksmanship or a possible fitness program.
“Let’s say an officer scores 100 percent on [a fitness standards test], or let’s say an officer shoots … an expert score, those would be one-time lump sum bonuses,” Gissubel said.
Officers assigned to specialty units such as the Containment Emergency Response Team or K-9 division, which require additional training, could also see pay increases.
“It’s not necessarily just a promotional raise,” Gissubel said. “This is something where you can benefit by having expertise in that particular field.”