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Wilmington Police Department struggles with recruitment, eyes diversity and competitive pay

Vince Winkel
The Wilmington Police Department on Bess Street.

Wilmington Police Department is currently hiring for about 15 police officers -- that’s more than 5% of the total budgeted police force.

The hiring struggle mirrors national recruitment problems for law enforcement, which trace back to the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020.

Mayor Bill Saffo said the city’s top priority is public safety, and said the council has never defunded the department. He and several other Wilmington city councilors expressed concern about the labor shortage and how it may impact public safety.

“Public Safety is our number one delivery of service,” he said.

Councilor Charlie Rivenbark mentioned low pay as a major concern- especially with rising housing costs in the city, and the lack of affordable workforce housing.

“We look at the average median income that identifies workforce housing. I would hope that we would use that as one of the grades when we start looking at entry-level pay,” Rivenbark said. “If it takes this level of pay to get into workforce housing in our city, then there needs to be an adjustment.”

He added that the public works department is also facing a shortage of 30 or so employees, despite having good benefits.

City staff told the council that the police are trying to recruit at community colleges and other locations — and that recruitment is aimed at diversifying the workforce. The city will also run a study to make sure that pay remains competitive. Right now, police officers start at just under $39,000 — that’s less than Wilmington’s median household income of $47,000, though higher than the individual average, $25,000. Police cadets start at $9 an hour.

Officers must be 20 years or older, U.S. citizens, and have a High School diploma or G.E.D. to get in. Staff said the department has successfully hired 11 candidates in the past few months, though 20 more are still needed.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant new to the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.