Pay Increases & Policy Shifts Help Police Fill & Diversify Ranks
The staffing shortages impacting many industries have hit law enforcement particularly hard, and Prince William County is no exception. During the Occoquan District’s Community Safety Town Hall (view video), Police Chief Peter Newsham explained that, to date, he has not requested staffing increases due to previous difficulties in filling existing vacancies. However, he followed this with exciting news: Efforts to fill the ranks and diversify staff are paying off. As of October, there are just 53 unfilled officer positions, down from nearly 100 last year. Chief Newsham estimates the department will reach its authorized strength of 707 sworn officers sometime next year.
The chief praised the Board of County Supervisors for approving a historic 17.5% pay increase and $10,000 signing bonuses in December, making the department more attractive as it competes with other jurisdictions for quality candidates. The Board also worked with police to fund 16 civilian administrative positions, freeing 16 officers to return to the field. Another notable factor is transitioning from holding two police academy classes a year to a new model with four smaller classes starting every three months. This strategic shift results in rolling graduations, with new officers joining the force more frequently.
The department is also making strides in retaining seasoned officers and diversifying its ranks to be more reflective of the community they serve. Efforts include outreach to communities of color and women, along with the creation of programs to help these new officers feel welcomed once onboard. For instance, the department has been implementing the findings of a 2021 Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) study into its recruitment and hiring practices and recently began a women’s mentorship program.
Separately, First Sergeant Jonathon Perok noted that the community plays a significant role in retention and recruitment. “Line troops see media reports; it affects you,” he said. “Defunding, etc.; those discussions weren’t happening here. We constantly had support. Our [community satisfaction] feedback is in the 90% range. We are appreciated here.”
“You have a police department that treats folks with dignity and respect. I believe that’s the reason you have those ratings here in Prince William County,” said Newsham, who is committed to finding “candidates of integrity” and instilling best practices.
With staffing levels on the rise, a Staffing Study is underway to see if adjustments are needed to meet the needs of our growing community. Supervisor Boddye noted that he looks forward to working with Chief Newsham to implement study recommendations when the time comes.
“The safety and well-being of all community members are enhanced by the collaboration between local government and our police department, along with the cross-agency support we see here in Prince William County,” said Supervisor Boddye. “Chief Newsham and his team are setting a national example of how to attract, retain, and diversify law enforcement while maintaining strong community support and a commitment to excellence.”