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Our view: Local police and fire department sign-on bonuses are needed in a competitive market

It’s a competitive market as businesses do their best to woo candidates to fill staff openings. Considering that competition, government agencies must at least consider the possibilities as they compete for the best applicants for important positions.

Herald pull quote, 11/9/22
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Looking for work? Some companies in the region are offering substantial sign-on bonuses for qualified applicants.

A simple internet search found a number of them, from $2,000 to $5,000, and for jobs that do not necessarily require advanced education or training. Some sign-on bonuses in North Dakota – for truck drivers and nurses, for instance – stretch into the range of $15,000 to $20,000.

It’s a competitive market as businesses do their best to woo candidates to fill staff openings. Considering that competition, government agencies must at least consider the possibilities as they compete for the best applicants for important positions.

Here’s an example: In East Grand Forks – where starting officer salaries are $56,888 – the City Council recently approved sign-on bonuses of $2,500, to be paid after successful completion of a background check and after starting the department’s field training and evaluation program. Another $2,500 will come after the successful completion of training and evaluation.

It might seem much to the taxpayers who must foot this bill, but it’s necessary, and it’s a good recruiting tool as the East Grand Forks Police Department struggles to get to full staff.

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And don’t think it’s not absolutely necessary. WCCO reported earlier this year that many police departments in Minnesota are offering $5,000 signing bonuses, with some even hitting the range of $10,000. It comes after departments across the state noted a drop in applicants following the murder by a Minneapolis policeman of George Floyd in 2020, WCCO reported.

Three weeks ago, there were more than 90 agencies advertising for officers in Minnesota, said East Grand Forks Police Department Chief Michael Hedlund.

“So we’re competing against a lot of different departments to try to attract both the people fresh out of school, and to be perfectly honest with you, agencies are competing against each other to try and get officers from other agencies,” he said.

In Grand Forks, Lt. Derik Zimmel said the same.

“If you talk to any police department anywhere in this country, they’re going to say they’re competing with other agencies locally, regionally and nationally,” Zimmel said.

Grand Forks has not instituted sign-on bonuses, but the city should consider it. In East Grand Forks, the department has received five applicants since the bonuses were approved by the City Council. Three of the applicants didn’t meet required qualifications.

Again, the competition for workers is fierce – not just from other government entities, but from the private sector, which is seeing the importance of sign-on bonuses and which does not have to battle public relations issues when spending more taxpayer money.

But it’s going to take more money – and more innovative hiring and retainment approaches – to ensure that our police and fire departments are fully staffed and at the ready when needed.

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Taxpayers must wrap their heads around this, and they must understand as those sign-on bonuses continue to grow.

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