Gary mayor wants to raise police and firefighter pay by $10K

GARY| Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson wants to raise the pay of Gary police and firefighters by $10,000 over three years amid mounting unrest.

Gary police are among the lowest paid in the region and picketed outside City Hall in September after not receiving any raises in nearly a decade. The low pay — around $35,000 for a starting patrolman — has been an issue for retention as police officers routinely seek better salaries, often in safer suburban departments. Earlier this week, Hammond announced it hired away two Gary police officers.

Crime has been an issue of growing concern in the city, which has had 36 homicides so far this year and eight in a period of just eight days.

Freeman-Wilson has talked to the Gary Common Council about boosting public safety pay.

“On Wednesday, we discussed our intentions to address changes in compensation for police and fire personnel by the end of the week,” she said.

“We have been working with unions and command staff from the Gary Police Department and Gary Fire Department for the past nine months in an effort to address compensation.

“During 2014 and 2015, we increased clothing allowances by $1,500 each year. While this did not increase base salary, this represented a 4 percent increase each year. Notwithstanding that fact, we understand that public safety salaries in the city of Gary have lagged behind the rest of the region.”

Gary wants to make salaries more equitable with neighboring communities, in order to hold onto officers who often start law enforcement careers in the city and then move to other departments for better pay as soon as they can.

Freeman-Wilson proposed public safety salary increases of $2,500 for 2015, $5,000 for 2016 and $2,500 for 2017.

“In order to achieve these salary levels, there will be a need to do some restructuring in the Police and Fire departments,” she said. “We will also propose public safety officers who will perform functions for both departments at a higher compensation level. It is also our expectation that all personnel will be fit for duty and that we will work together to improve working conditions for police and fire.”

She said the raises were just one part of her administration’s budget request, which also has a safety valve in case revenue drops by more than 20 percent.

The Gary Common Council must approve the budget.

“There has never been a dispute that public safety personnel in the city of Gary deserve to be compensated for the dangerous jobs they do,” Freeman-Wilson said. “We owe it to the citizens of this community to protect the fiscal integrity of the city. This is the balance that we have been working hard to achieve.”